14 Things I've Discovered Since Moving from the US to NI
On Wednesday, I was flying out of Belfast City Airport to go to London on a business trip. As we are rising over the Lagan and gliding past Samson and Goliath, it hit me that Belfast really is starting to feel like home. Which was exciting for me because the adjustment has been tougher than I had initially imagined, but also terrifying, because it might mean that my ‘other’ home is slipping away.
Just over a year ago I moved to Belfast - one of the few places in the world that rains even more than Portland, Oregon. It’s been such an amazing experience in learning and I’ve grown to love and understand so much that is unique to the area. So I’ve decided to make a list of the things that have challenged me to stretch my boundaries in my first year.
Food is a huge deal to culture and comfort and the feeling of home. Like most people, I love food. What I hadn’t realised was just how much I leaned on the ability to find certain foods when I felt I needed them. While I’ve come to love a good Ulster Fry with brown sauce, I think I genuinely long for good Mexican food on a daily basis.
1. No sorry, Boojum does not count as Mexican food. There is only one decent Mexican restaurant in Belfast so if you are looking for some tasty tacos, try La Taqueria. (You can’t buy fresh jalapenos anywhere or decent tortillas.)
This hinders my ability to find or just make myself great tacos or enchiladas. While I have yet to find a remedy for this, I bring back as many spice packs as I can when I go home, because sometimes I just don’t want to have to make my own! Suffice it to say, when I’m in Oregon I stuff my face with as much Mexican food as I can find.
2. I can't seem to find a bowl of Pho.
In University, a bowl of Vietnamese Pho with as many spices as I could add became my go to when I was under the weather. It warmed me up, help clear my sinuses and tasted amazing. Anyone local know of anywhere for this?? Help me to find it!!
3. I’ve noticed that a proper dinner in NI always has around 3 different types of potatoes on your plate - boiled, mashed and roasted.
Now I acknowledge that this isn’t every dinner, but all semi-formal dinners in my experience have three types and every Sunday dinner at my in-laws’ house involves two types of potatoes plus grated parsnips.
Care for the Environment
Along with the idea of food, another major difference from home is easy access to sustainable food practices. I’ve recently made it my mission to reduce the use of plastic in my household and have noticed how much more challenging this goal is here compared to how it would have been back in my other home. When I lived there, I was not necessarily in the financial place to have as much control over which products I spent my money on. Here in Belfast, I’ve experienced the following:
4. Everything comes in plastic
Now the US also has a huge dependency on plastic. However, I think that in Portland, the issue is starting to be taken very seriously. For example, very little of the produce in a grocery store would be in any kind of plastic - with the exception of berries and salads. I’ve gone on many rants about how difficult it can be to buy fresh foods sans plastics here!
5. There is no equivalent to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods / There is nowhere to buy in bulk items
There are entire grocery stores dedicated to organic, sustainably sourced products. Also, most grocery stores in Portland have at least a small bulk buy section where you can bring your own containers to fill with flour, cereals, coffee, etc. I’d love to find one of these here and thankfully I have it on good authority that one is in the works!!
6. Mason jars are only decorative here.
Apparently people’s grannies don’t can peaches or pickle cucumbers here in NI. Back home using mason jars for food storage, preserving, and as a drinking glass is common. Here, you can only buy a mason jar that has a candle in it or has lid with a straw. You can buy proper ones online, but they cost a pretty penny. People tend to use the clip top jars for storage here, which I think are a bit heftier for carrying around. I want to just start collecting jars from my pantry items, but I *really* like things to match as I despise clutter. So I think the plan is to pick one and stockpile them over a few months.
Family & Friends
Moving to a new country was extra tough on my friendships or relationships. When I arrived I knew nobody except my spouse and a handful of his friends and family. I was 8 time zones away from my friends and family in Oregon - making keeping in contact with them challenging. Over several months I’ve learned a few tips and tricks and have since made some wonderful people!
7. Making friends as an adult is hard
When your working, have a dog, and a husband AND are starting your own business, you don’t have tons of time to cultivate close friendships or to do the types of things that can randomly introduce you to new friends (I’m thinking back to many friends I’ve made through nights drinking with other friends). I’ve really had to throw myself out there to make friends here in Belfast. Joining Facebook groups dedicated to the subject turned out to be mostly fruitless, however I had a lot more success on Bumble BFF. Which is essentially just like a dating app, except you find people with similar interests to be friends with!
8. How kind and welcoming Northern Irish people can be.
I’ve been fortunate enough to experience time and time again how genuine, helpful and kind people from Northern Ireland are. People are always willing to hear your story in a pub, give you directions or a suggestion as to where to get the best gin or listen to the best music. That said, it can be very difficult to make deeper connections, as everyone already has their own circle of support. Northern Ireland isn’t very big, so even if someone isn’t from Belfast, they most likely have all their friends and family within an hour drive away.
9. Karaoke is limited in Belfast, and bars close quite early.
My friend group back home ended up becoming regulars at 3 of the karaoke bars near to my house. At first it was the place we either started or ended our nights when we were going out, but as we got older and mellowed out it became the main event. There’s only one karaoke bar in Belfast and they close at 1 AM. I’ve also found that people here tend to be less willing to get up and sing to a crowd of drunk people than I’m used to.
10. Getting married at 24 is fairly uncommon here.
All of my husband’s friends have significant others. Yep, every single one of them and a lot of them are in quite serious relationships. However, when we started planning our wedding nearly two years ago, we were the only ones in that place. Even though most of my friends from high school and a good deal of the people I knew in college were already married. It’s only just now that his friends are starting to get engaged with weddings set 1-2 years in the future.
I’ve written a bit about my journey to becoming a VA before and the fact that I would like to spend more time in the United States
11. Starting a business when you are starting your life over is both a blessing and a curse.
I didn’t have any business contacts when I moved to Northern Ireland. Which has allowed me as a business person to be seen without any preconceived notions and start a business on an entirely fresh foot! However, it also means a lot of extra work in getting to know the lovely business community in NI and a lot of networking events! Speaking of which...
12. The NI/Belfast spirit of entrepreneurship is infectious!
I’ve found that Belfast turns out entrepreneurs in a way like I’ve never seen or experienced before. There are so many startup communities, networking events, and workshops that it can be hard to choose from!
13. How different the job market is in NI
In looking for my first job in Northern Ireland, I learned that my approach to job hunting was not suited for the Belfast market. First off, the recruitment industry in Belfast has ahold of an amazingly huge percentage of the jobs being marketed. Until my move all of my experience involved recruitment being done in house, with the exception of highly technical/specialised roles. I also found that In Belfast, I’ve found that it is more common to have a 2 page CV with no cover letter - as opposed to a 1 page resume and write a cover letter as most roles in the United States expect.
An Emphasis on Outdoor Fun
14. I miss tent camping. And berry picking. And hiking amongst trees.
I was raised in the mountains. My dad used to pull us out of school to go hiking, camping, mushroom and berry picking, to shoot bow and arrow, and to shoot guns (I know, very American). But I think he legitimately would have thought he’d failed as a parent if I didn’t know how to set up a tent, start a fire or clean a fish. The Pacific Northwest has a definitive culture of outdoor adventure. Hiking is a common social gathering. Every major summer holiday is punctuated with camping, natural hot springs, river floats and beach trips. Some of this is possible in Northern Ireland, but I it doesn’t have the same energy or number of people that are into it!
On to Year Two
Through these realisations, I’ve attempted to launch a business and failed. Then a few months later tweaked my idea and tried again and have found a good amount of success. I’ve created a home I love and have decorated it how I like. I’ve learned to live with less Mexican food and started cooking different cuisines. Essentially, I’ve learned to accept a new way of life. I don’t have a clue what the next year will have in store for me, but I hope it includes deeper friendships, business growth, and as much time outside with my dog and husband as I can get.