My Expat Story, Part I

I’m currently here on an indefinite leave to remain visa, and about to start the citizenship application. But how did I get here and manage the headache inducing immigration process? It’s a long story, but here it is.

I first came to the UK in 2003 on a high school trip. The trip was a literary journey though England, Scotland and Wales with 25 or so of my classmates and led by my junior year English teacher. We went to London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Edinburgh, Durham, Llangollen, Haworth, Keswick and more. I fell in love with England during this trip, especially London. We briefly stopped in Scotland and Wales but I wasn’t too impressed. My least favorite place of the whole trip was Edinburgh. I thought it was dull, cold and not a very interesting city compared to the likes of London, NYC, LA and SF.

So when it came time to decide where to study abroad in college I naturally looked to London. The problem was that my school only offered a musical theatre intensive London program (no thanks!) and a psychology/social work program. I was a history major and had hoped to continue my studies during my time abroad. A English major friend of mine was applying to the Glasgow program and she recommended it as the focus was history/English. So I filled out an application, went though my interview and was accepted into the program. My mom couldn’t understand why I would want to go to Glasgow when I didn’t like Edinburgh but at that time my major was very important to me and I figured I could always visit London on the weekends. I also felt like I should give a new city a chance.

I arrived in the UK for the second time on August 28, 2006. The program started with two weeks in London so we all arrived through Heathrow. We went though immigration as a group and were all stamped in as six month visitors. I doubt they would do that now but we weren’t eligible for a student visa due to the short length of our stay. I chronicled the first few days here in my old blog but lost interest as the weeks went on. I was busy meeting Danny by that time!

I left Glasgow on December 11, 2006. I went back to Portland for the second semester of my third year and Danny and I kept in touch. I booked my tickets to visit him for the summer in the Cayman Islands, where he was working at the time. No visa to enter the county but after 30 days I had to apply for long term visitor’s visa. Danny took a long lunch and we went to Cayman’s tiny immigration office, paid our $50 CI and Danny had to sign as my sponsor and verify his employment. I think they accepted his company uniform as proof actually. That’s the Cayman Islands for you!

As I approached graduation and Danny and I got more serious we started having those talks that all LDR couples have to go through. Danny wasn’t eligible for the green card lottery and his skills weren’t in such high demand that an American company could sponsor him. I wasn’t ready to enroll in a graduate degree and didn’t have any specific skills that a British company would sponsor me for. Our only option at the time was BUNAC, a now defunct short term visa option for recently graduated American students to move to the UK and work for 6 months.

But after six month, what then? We’d be faced with the exact same issues. I think the BUNAC option would have been a good chance at getting to experience normal life together for a bit before getting too serious. However, without getting into too much detail, Danny and I were already at that serious point. He proposed a few days after my college graduation and it was time to look into fiance/spousal visas.

To be continued…

(And just in case you were wondering, Glasgow is still way better than Edinburgh!)

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