I have been living in the United States as an ex-pat for five years now.
Not in one sweep, but divided into three years in Kentucky and two years in Virginia.
My experiences living in both states have been very different. Based on my surroundings, but also based on age and, therefore, my development.
Let’s start at the beginning. I moved to Kentucky in May 2011. I was 27 years old then and had never been to the United States besides visiting for ten days during Christmas 2007.
We lived in Elizabethtown, a 15-minute drive from Fort Knox. We rented a small house and lived in a subdivision, which was central to shops, restaurants, and a nearby park. In addition, Elizabethtown was a 45-minute drive to Louisville, Ky, and only a 20- minute drive to my husband’s parents.
Elizabethtown is a small town in Hardin County, which was a dry county (meaning, you could not buy any alcohol in that county) when we first moved there; except for in a restaurant. Who has even ever heard about a rule like that? Surely not the girl from Germany!
Living back then in Kentucky, I can honestly say I was not a fan. I just never got used to the way of life in Kentucky. Life was very slow. And at 27, I was not ready for that!
Of course, people also had very different opinions and thoughts about the way of life from what I was used to. Especially when it came to politics, and I think that was the most significant change for me. I have always had strong political and liberal opinions, and rural Kentucky does not support that mindset. I felt like an alien on a different planet.
Back then, Obama was president, and I felt like America was finally moving forward, but not so much in Kentucky. At least not that I could see.
Back then, I even put my German flag license plate on my car; I was proud of being a German in America.
Today, living in Virginia, and given the political climate in this country, I would never dare to do that! I want to blend in and not be seen in any negative (foreigner) way.
The only place I felt excited about visiting back then was Louisville. The big city with all the cute boutique shops, restaurants, and even liberal people.
That’s why we spent most of our Saturdays in Louisville.
Life in Virginia
Living in Virginia has been a very much smoother experience for me.
I think most of it is because I have lived in the US before, and I knew what to expect from living here. Of course, I have also developed over the years. Meaning I have made more experiences, more ups-and-downs, and in general, I have become more grown-up.
Wanting to change people’s opinions about politics back in Kentucky, and being a bit more idealistic, I now realize if a political discussion has any chance of success, or if it is just a waste of my time and passion. I try to accept the differences, and let go.
In the beginning, I thought the proximity from Fredericksburg to Washington DC would be a massive factor in people’s political thinking and behavior. But I have to say that that assumption has not proven right to me. Yes, there are way more liberal thinking people here than there were in Kentucky. But in the grand scheme of things, not nearly as much as I thought there SHOULD be.
Also, as mentioned above, with the harsh political climate, I feel much less welcome in Virginia as a foreigner than I did back in Kentucky. Kentuckians perhaps do not think as I would prefer, but they are amiable people, and I never felt unwelcome during my three years living there.
In contrast, I have overheard a customer in a supermarket telling an African-American woman “to go home to Kenia” in Virginia. Disgusting.
On the other hand, Virginia, though, has more options.
They have Lidl, which I mentioned before in another ex-pat blog post, which I love dearly. And all kinds of other stores that have European drinks and food. Also, being close to downtown Fredericksburg with plenty of cute restaurants and pubs has been an excellent experience living here. I always enjoy my time going downtown.
Of course, due to COVID 19, that fun has been depleted from our current life, with no end in sight.
Furthermore, the proximity to Washington DC with all its cultural opportunities is a considerable benefit living here. Virginia Beach on the Atlantic Ocean is only two hours away, and Richmond, the capital of Virginia, which I enjoy visiting very much, makes life much more exciting.
If the US had been able to flatten the curve, and life could be more ‘normal,’ I would enjoy living here. But having a more grim outlook on the rest of the year, and beyond, for now, I feel more restless, and keep dreaming about living life again back home in Germany. I have no problem whatsoever wearing a mask outside of my house if that means living still.
But for now, I enjoy our cute little house, our fantastic deck, and the vast yard, which I currently use for cutting fresh hydrangeas, and harvesting ripe tomatoes daily.
The little things are the big things now. And I try to appreciate that.
Living in both Kentucky and Virginia has shown me that the US is a vast country with different lifestyles from state to state. But it also makes it clear to me that every state has its pros and cons, and that you can always find the good living in a new place.
Virginia wins the competition between living as an ex-pat for me. I could see myself returning here with no ill-feelings.
And of course, I still hope for a more progressive country when we return again.