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Archive for the ‘Moving’ category


Last Sunday Dave Tomlinson’s talk at St. Luke’s was about identity which, of course, got me thinking about how all the big changes in my life recently have affected my sense of identity.

For the last twelve years, so much of my identity was wrapped up in Calvin College: my job, my various roles, and who I was to the people there. Yesterday I was on the Admissions website checking out the new photos of the Admissions Counselors (most of whom used to be my Admissions Counselors), and it was so weird not to be part of that world anymore. It’s also really strange when Calvin events are posted on Facebook, and I know lots of people who will be going to them, but I’m not one of them.

So far my primary identity here in London/the UK is “James’ wife.” That’s not a bad thing, and I’ve formed some great friendships with people who originally met me as “James’ wife.” But there’s a whole lot more to me than that. I think that one of the reasons I so treasure my friendship here with Lisa is that not only is she a fellow American negotiating London, but she first met me and James at the same time and doesn’t have a history with James that goes back further than my history with him.

My musings about identity are nothing approaching “crisis” level. I’ve always had a pretty solid sense of self. (One of the glorious things about being a “thirtysomething” is that it doesn’t even matter so much as it once did.) I’m still a wife and a daughter and a sister and a granddaughter and a friend. I’m a lover of music, film, books, good food, good wine, etc. (Culture snob?) I’m a person of faith whose faith compels her to want to make the world a better place, especially for the marginalized and underprivileged. Those are a lot of good things to be. And as our life develops in London, I’m hoping to become a lot more things: neighbor, contributing church member, co-worker, regular patron, [hopefully someday] mother… and who knows what else. I’m looking forward to finding out.

I tell you what, folks: if you are negotiating for something, you want to have James Stewart on your side. The man drives a hard bargain! (If you are negotiating a handbag purchase in Vietnam, you want to have Sarah Sahr on your side, but that’s another story entirely…) Despite the fact that Foxtons (estate agents) were incredibly annoying and frustrating to deal with, we have ourselves a flat in London.

We arrived in the UK on Friday, the 3rd of August, and by Monday the 6th we were in London looking at flats. We looked at four flats on Monday and another six on Wednesday, four of them with an agent from Foxtons. A couple of them really appealed to us, but only one had the ideal location going for it, and in addition it was £15 per week cheaper. So on Thursday afternoon, we went in to Foxtons office and put in an offer for £5 per week under the asking price. Our offer was accepted, and on Friday afternoon, we signed the contract and agreed to Monday as move-in day. Oh, if only it were as straightforward as that…

We had heard from a number of our friends that Foxtons can really be a pain to deal with. They give the appearance of being service-oriented, but when it comes down to it, their underlying agenda seems to be to get as much money out of you as possible and to make your life difficult in the interest of… well… we’re not even really sure in the interest of what. They wanted both James and I to submit an employer reference, a former landlord reference, and a bank reference along with a deposit for the equivalent of six weeks rent and the first month rent up front. James went back to them and said that landlord reference requirement was ridiculous given that we’ve been homeowners for the last three years, and the work references would be difficult to obtain since he’s self-employed and my former employer is the U.S. And bank reference? Really? What the heck? So they said we could forego those with a guarator letter (which James’ father was happy to sign), three months of bank statements, and six months rent paid up front. (!!) James said, six months seems a little much, how about four? Which they then accepted. (Note that all of James’ interaction has been with a Foxtons agent who supposedly is bringing our proposals to the landlord, but we’re not really sure how much of it actually went back to him and how much was just made up by Foxtons.) However, when James asked how much money we needed to bring to the contract signing (deposit + rent up front + Foxton’s fees), he realized that when they agreed to four months rent in advance, what they meant was four months + the one month that’s regularly part of the contract. In other words, we were really paying five months up front. Grrr.

That wasn’t the worst part of it, though. All along throughout our interactions with Foxtons we expressed our desire to have a six-month break clause in the contract given that we are hoping to buy a place soon. The way the housing market is going here, each month that goes by means that we’re going to be paying more when we come to buy. Ergo, we don’t want to be stuck in a twelve-month rental contract. So we wrote the six-month break clause into our offer for the flat, and since we didn’t hear any objection via Foxton’s, we expected that to be written into the contract. Au contrare! Apparently Foxtons was just ignoring that bit and hoping we wouldn’t notice it wasn’t in the contract. In the end, the landlord agreed on a nine-month break clause, but still. That was totally sucky and deceitful of Foxtons. We’re not impressed. It would be lovely if we could just say that when we come to buy a place we’re not going to look at Foxtons properties at all, but alas, they have quite a few properties in the area, and they actually have one of the better websites for looking at properties. But if it comes down to two places that we really like and one of them is represented by Foxtons, that would be enough to push us to the other one.

Despite the ickyness of that process, we’re really delighted that we found such a great place in just a few days. We’re eager to get settled and start our life in London. Now we just need the rest of our belongings to actually put into our new flat. As far as we know, it’s all still in customs limbo. With any luck we’ll have it before Greenbelt (which starts on the 24th) but we’re not holding our breath. Watch this space for updates…

After eight weeks of traveling through Northern California, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, China, and Mongolia (an absolutely wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime trip capped off by a miserable nine hour layover at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow – horrid place), James and I have arrived in the UK and now begin our life here.

There are so many details to sort out – getting a flat, a job, a mobile phone, NHS and National Insurance numbers, bank accounts, etc., etc. It’s a little overwhelming, especially whilst dealing with jetlag and travel fatigue. We’re also still waiting for our shipment of stuff which was sent from Grand Rapids just over eight weeks ago. It sure would be nice to have that as I’m a little tired of the three pairs of trousers and six shirts that I’ve been wearing for the last two months.

Lots of people have asked me what I’m going to do for work when we move to London, and my standard answer has been, “I don’t know. I’ll find something to do!” Thinking about that while traveling around the world was rather difficult, but now that the travels are over, it’s time to get down to doing a serious job search. One of the challenging things as far as that goes is there is so much I’m interested in doing. It’s a little hard to know where to start. My twelve years working in Admissions at Calvin gave me skills to do a lot of different things: project management, event planning, marketing, public relations, hiring and training, supervising professional staff, public speaking and presenting, hospitality, etc. So that could lead me in all sorts of different directions. My passion for art and culture and my involvement with community radio and with Calvin Student Activities (including planning the Festival of Faith and Music) could also play into a job search.

When I think about what I’m especially passionate about, though, a couple of things particularly stick out: 1) dismantling racism, working toward racial reconciliation, and helping others with the process of discovering how systems of privilege and oppression affect them and the world around them; and 2) working with others to put talents and resources to use effectively to build the kingdom of God on earth, and helping others along the way to discover how they can be part of that grand project. How that translates into a job description, I’m not exactly sure! Some more specific things that I’ve thought about looking into doing include: working with British students who want to study in the US (my comprehensive knowledge of the US higher education landscape could be very useful there), working with international students at a UK university, working for a travel company, leading anti-racism training programs, working for a community-based non-profit or arts organization, or working at a specialty foodstuffs shop. (I know, that last one seems a little random, but I love food, I love to cook, and I love being in those sorts of stores. I’d love to work for Art of the Table or Martha’s Vineyard branches in London, but they don’t seem to exist yet. Maybe I could start a franchise…)

So… all that to say, if you happen to know of a job opening in the London area that might suit me, please let me know (and if you’re interested, you can download a PDF of my CV here). I’d appreciate all the references and advice I could get!

Since the last time I wrote anything here, a number of significant things have happened. We sold our house (via word of mouth – thank you Steve!) and have since closed on the house and gotten rid of a lot of our possessions. As I write we are in the last hour of a two-day yard sale which has been quite successful thanks to the abundance of sunshine which defied the predictions for a weekend of rain.

I also now have four new visas in my passport. We spent an hour and forty-five minutes waiting in line at the Chinese consulate in Chicago to get the Chinese tourist visas. The Vietnam visas were mail-ordered. The visas for Cambodia were applied for online and emailed to us. And on May 21 we went back to the British consulate in Chicago,
and got my UK settlement visa. The gentleman to whom we explained our situation informed us that we saved $530 by applying in February: in the last three months the application fee had gone up from $520 to $1050. Eek! So even though we had to make an extra trip to the consulate, we were in Chicago anyway (for the excellent Arcade Fire concert at the Chicago Theatre) and it was definitely worth it for the money we saved!

Our house is getting very empty now. It’s a little sad. We sold a number of things – including our dining room table – on Facebook. (Go Facebook Marketplace!) Friends and family took a lot off of our hands as well. In the next few days the major task is sorting through what’s left and deciding what to do with the stuff that we’re not having the movers haul off to London for us. We also still need to sell our car. Know anyone who might want to buy a 2003 Mazda Protege? It’s a great car and we’re looking to make a deal!

Another major thing that has happened in the last week is that after 12 years of professional work in the Admissions Office (plus another two as a student worker before that), I had my last day of work at Calvin College. A lot of people have asked me how I feel about that. It’s hard to say because I still haven’t really had that much time for it to sink in, and I don’t know that it will really hit me until sometime next September when we’re settling into some semblance of normal life again albeit normal life in totally new setting. There are certainly aspects about working at Calvin that I will miss a lot – mostly the people there who are so dear to me. Twelve years was a good run, though, and having anticipated my last day for a good 18 months, it felt like the right time.

Plans for our Big Trip Around The World are pretty much in place. One week from tomorrow we will fly from Chicago to San Jose, and the adventures will begin. Keep an eye on this space for stories and highlights from the other side of world!