6 Months into My US Adventure

In Swansea University (my 1 year of it before transferring to the University of East Anglia) I vividly remember printing out photos of houses in the United States and pinning them above my PC for motivation.  Then, I didn’t really understand the differences between States, I just thought all houses were the same across the US but it highlights how long I have wanted to live and work in the US.

My understanding of the United States of America grew with age and also by having had the opportunity to travel to quite a lot of US cities and States (for work and travelling to watch by beloved New York Islanders play on the road).  My desire to live and work overseas grew too, as a lot of the people I looked up to in my early career had worked stints overseas and it clearly added something to a person and a professional.  One of my mentors told me it was the ability to adapt to different cultures but I always wondered if it would be different because in almost all of my roles I have worked with people across the world, albeit virtually from the UK.

I came painfully close during my work with Hexcel Corporation which was based in Duxford.  I was contracting at the time and their Headquarters is in Salt Lake City.  I was fortunate enough to go out to Dublin, California to work for a few weeks but then to Salt Lake City for an extended time.  By then I had worked with Hexcel for over a year and all of my colleagues (managers & directors) knew of my ambition.  When I was over in SLC a position was vacant that I would have been great in and various conversations happened about me filling this role.  Everybody was keen and relocation seemed a real possibility.  I had even looked at a few apartments with a colleague and discussed with the company lawyers.  Unfortunately, to be eligible you need to have worked for the company for over 18 months I believe and in-fact I had technically not worked for Hexcel at all as I was contracting.  My only option was the switch to permanent and then wait it out, something in the end I chose not to do.  This decision was justified in the end as contracting enabled me to work in so many different industries but also allowed me to travel the world extensively in between.  Still, the stint at Hexcel really turbo-charged my desire to live and work abroad and in particular the US.

Despite always being on my mind, the opportunity did not present itself because I continued to work as a ontractor.  When I went back into full-time permanent work in 2018 it was on my mind from day one that this was a UK based company with only UK based customers.  Despite me initially really enjoying the role and being back in Norfolk, I always had my eye out for an international company where I knew the opportunity would be greater.  In January 2020 I made the move to the company I am with now which is a global business but with the core of the company really in the US.

I made it clear from pretty early on that my ambition was to move to the States, and it was only really after 18 months where it became apparent that I could be way more effective in my role based in the US, have a more sensible work/life balance and be of greater value to the business both in the immediate and long term.  Despite it being during a pandemic, we got the ball rolling!

The process was pretty grim because I am just so impatient but the closer it got the more I just wrote off everything else.  It was during the pandemic too and I had moved into a new place, new village during the pandemic also.  So when running club stopped, going to the football stopped during the pandemic, my mind was pretty much only on this visa process.  There were lots of bumps on the way, there were some meltdowns too, some complications due to the situation with my apartment in Birmingham (cladding crisis) but in November 2021 I got the green light for an interview in London finally.  I won’t go too much into the detail, this is probably boring enough for you already but the immigration lawyers were slack, I turned up in London with my visa pack, the accompanying letters were so obvious cut and paste job, I had some references to he, some to her, this all really stressed me out as I knew it was a temperamental process.  In the end there was nothing to worry about because it was a sponsored executive visa but there were some seriously nervy times throughout where I started to ponder what I would do next if this did not go through.

Given the situation with the pandemic, I decided it was not wise to try and delay the move due to ever changing Covid circumstances so I took the earliest date I could and I was heading to the States on 4th December 2021 with my new 3 year L1-A visa.

I had my eye on a particular apartment for a few months, so much so, I kept reserving it which held it for 30 days and then re-reserving it.  That cost me a couple of quid but it was worth it when I finally got here.  I was put up in a hotel for a month by work, and it was well located for me to get bearings.  I loved it from the first minute but with no car,  I was walking 100’s of miles in the course of a month.  I had a list of apartments to view but after I saw the one I had my eye on for a while there was no point in going anywhere else, I snapped it up due to the facilities and I wanted a view of the mountains.  I moved in a week before the hotel stay ended so I could transition stuff over in bits and pieces.  I was getting used to the altitude, getting used to the amazing blazing sun every day whether it was – 10 degrees or 20 degrees and mistakenly, I didn’t take a day off the whole last year before I moved or during the move itself (in hindsight, I would have).

Given running club had been pied during covid and I had moved houses in Norfolk, I had zero motivation to run, so after getting to my thinnest and fittest pre-pandemic I had fallen back into a bit of a mess.  My first goal when getting to Colorado was to sort myself out, get back into fitness and running and lose some of the weight I had put on because I knew when I am not happy with my weight, I barely can be comfortable anywhere, not even a supermarket.

The apartment I am in is amazing, I love the apartment, love the pool, the gym, the staff, the facilities and the peaceful location (with amazing views).  My belongings had been packed in November but delayed shipping due to container crisis so I was grateful I had sold a lot of the bigger furniture items before heading off.  So I was in Colorado – TICK, I had an apartment – TICK, now I needed to get somewhere. to sleep and sit.  I managed to get the bed I wanted delivered before I had even got into the apartment but the sofa I had ordered became a bit of of a saga and it ended up getting delivered almost 5 months after I had moved in.  I should have cancelled after 2 or 3 but it became some sort of weird endurance challenge then and I stuck it out.  As I type here today, 6 months and 2 weeks after I moved, my things from the UK still have not arrived.  Most of the things are sentimental things, but I am desperate for my bike because this state is absolutely incredible for bike trails and cycling in general.

One thing I forgot to mention somehow was in the 2nd week of me being in the apartment, the unbelievable Lousivlle wildfires occurred which wiped out over a 1000 buildings.  At first I could just see crazy smoke, but then as hours went on could see flames in the distance and the Code Red SMS came to evacuate immediately.  I had no clue what to take etc of course and had no car, so I hitched a ride to the evacuation centre with basically my laptop and my passport.  I said to my boss if a flame touches the apartment I’ll be on a one way flight back to UK, shortest relocation ever.  Thankfully they never got that far and they were unprecedented, complete devastation of a town really.  Colorado is extremely dry with the altitude and almost zero humidity, so when you throw up 100mph winds or whatever they were, the fire danger is massive and it was a perfect storm that day and ended in catastrophe.  Was certainly an interesting first 2 weeks in the apartment, I ended up spending just 1 night in a hotel and was then allowed back given it never really threatened to reach my place, many many people were not so lucky.



Right, back to it… once I had something to sleep in, something to sit on was delayed but sorted, I then picked up a nice desk for the office (something to work on) and then it was all eyes on driving.  I have travelled a lot but never hired a car abroad or driven abroad so I was pretty nervous.  You can drive on your UK license for 90 days and then you have to get a US one so March 4th was really my deadline for passing the test, but to have any chance I needed a car!  I bought a new car but of course with the global crisis nothing could be delivered imminently, thankfully though there was no delay and I got my motor on the 15th February, that gave me 2 weeks to practice and pass the test.  I had already done the theory test and passed so that was out of the way but 2 weeks did not seem a long time to figure the US roads out.  Worst still, in my infinite wisdom I had decided to go on a little trip to California during those 2 weeks so I really had no time at all.  I quickly realised though that driving an automatic (which I had done since I passed my test in the UK) meant I just needed to figure out the nuances between UK and US driving such as 4-way stops, turning right on red lights amongst a few other things.  I had booked my test for the last day by license was valid 4th March and I was praying it wouldn’t snow.  Thankfully, it didn’t and I passed with flying colours so I now had a pad, a bed, a sofa, a TV, office furniture, a car and a license.   The car was so important because my goal of shifting the weight needed me to get to running club (I am a terrible solo runner) and Colorado is so vast it is a struggle to get anywhere without a car.  As soon as I got the car I could explore Colorado more and join a running club, which I did so 2 months in and I felt this was when my adventure really started.

One of the main reasons for me wanting to relocate was to the work in a hustling, bustling office again with the Ipswich office being only a very small amount of staff present.  Unfortunately, due to Covid and the staged Return to Office, even to this day, the office is pretty much a ghost town, but still, being in this timezone means I get my evenings to myself, something I rarely got in the UK!  I am adjusting to the mornings now mind, with my crossover for my staff in Chennai, India and UK being early mornings but despite me being a zombie some days, I’d take that for my late afternoons/evening free any day!

I have got about to quite a few places in my first 5 months here, I’ve seen the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Rapids and Colorado Avalanche.  I have done the 2,000 odd steps of the Manitou Incline, climbed up the Flatiron mountains, been up to Lookout Mountain where Buffalo Bill is buried, been to Fort Collins, many lakes and reservoirs, Idaho Springs, Garden of the Gods and how could I forget the National Western Stock Show All Star Rodeo which was incredible!   I have joined a great Running Club and ran about 4 races, my running is no-where near where it needs to be yet but it is hard to gauge because the altitude is a major factor and it’s so hard to describe until you come here and run in it!  Still, weight wise is pretty decent but still a small way to go which I look forward to the Summer programme which starts tomorrow extinguishing.

From about 4 months in, I started to look forward to my folks visiting for 2 and a half weeks.  It had been booked since before I actually left for Colorado so it had been fun looking forward to it and planning, but given the Covid-19 regulations had not been dropped for the US, as we got closer, it became less excitement and more dread that they would be positive and it would not happen.  Thankfully, all was ok and they were here and the holiday was epic!  It was the first time they had visited the United States (or anywhere near that far away) and it was the first real extended holiday I had had since the whole Visa process started. I had booked Vegas and Mt Princeton springs for little surprise trips for them as I had not been home for both of their 60th birthdays or their Ruby anniversary.  The whole trip was amazing, whether it was trips to Estes Park (Rocky Mt National Park), Mt Princeton, Vegas, Garden of the Gods, the Baseball or just chilling around the pool and grill area here, it was amazing start to finish, and we’re all already looking forward to next year!

So now the folks have gone back, I feel like it’s kind of phase 2 settling down in Colorado.  The running club summer programme starts tomorrow as I mentioned so I am aiming to go to another level during that and make some further adjustments downward to the waist line, and then really I am waiting for the last milestone which are my things arriving.  Once my belongings are here I think that will be the last piece of the puzzle to me thinking I am living here.

I think in this imaginary ‘Phase 2’ I have just declared, I need to focus more on meeting some people in and around Colorado now.  I have never been somebody that desperately needs to be out and about with people all the time, I will talk to anybody and I have no issues with my own company but to be fully embedded into Colorado, you need to establish a group of friends.  Luckily in the US, the culture is very much go to a bar sit on a stool by it and that means you’re there to chat to everybody around you pretty much.  When I contracted, I quickly became very comfortable with going to restaurants, cinema etc on my own, and I absolutely have zero qualms about it now.  So Phase 2 means I probably need to stop thinking going out for a few drinks will somehow reverse all the work I have done with running club and get out a bit.  I am looking forward to getting some international travel back on the agenda too.  Luckily in the US we have a ‘take as much leave as you need policy’, but at the moment I just have a trip to Mexico in the diary to see one of my oldest and best friends get married.  I cannot wait for that, it’s going to be a great time, in a great place and with great people – Viva Mexico!

Finally, I am hoping that my company will be kick-starting the Green Card process imminently.  This will mean I can live, work in the US freely across different states and not have my visa tied to a single company.  The process is a long one but just waiting for final approval before we instructed the lawyers.  I am even more keen to get this going given the volatile economic situation coming to all organisations across the world in 2023 and 2024, it’s going to be a bumpy ride for all companies and you even see Tesla and others already freezing new hires or trimming workforces.  I need to protect myself, but equally if at the end of the 2/3 years it’s time to go back to the UK, I will be chuffed to have said I have done it and lived it.  The main reason I am pushing for this process though is because I want my own destiny in my hands, and it feels at the moment the company holds all the cards, that is not a good position for somebody like me to be in, I hate to be pinned down, more than anything.

And to anybody that has made it through this whole thing, thank you!  I have a spare bedroom and bathroom so visitors are always welcome and I am sure my folks would attest, but anybody who visits I’ll make sure to make it an amazing trip.  Here’s to the next 6 months, see you there if you can cope with another blog entry.  On that actually, I agreed with the folks that we would make the trips a once a year thing so it can be big and special, given I am home in October for a month (work purposes of course :D, looking forward to seeing everybody, getting to the Arsenal and Euro Away and hopefully seeing Broncos @ Wembley) I am doubting whether I would want to go back in December which would mean a 2nd Christmas on my own.   I said I would never have another on my own, even if this one was ok because it was all new to me, but I am not so sure about seeing folks in June then October, then December and then a big 6 months gap to June again.  I am thinking maybe to stomach one more Christmas on my todd and then come home out of my own pocket in February which would mean June > October > Feb > June > December – then I can get into the swing of being back in December.

Anyway, much love from Colorado.  Photos from my adventure on Instagram @KJRowe6