How to Appreciate the Beauty and Opportunities in Birmingham, England
American expat Munzareen lives and works as a general practitioner in the thriving city of Birmingham, England. Being in the second-largest city in the UK for only a year, she shares wise insights on how to appreciate the beauty and opportunities while living abroad.
Hi Munzareen! Thank you for meeting with me today! I really appreciate it 🙂 Let me know when you are ready to begin!
Hi Michelle! Ready!
Awesome! I guess we can jump right in. Where are you from in the US, and where are you currently living now?
Well, I grew up in Long Island in NY, but lived in Chicago for the last 5 years so I’m kinda from both places. I live in Birmingham in the UK now.
Cool. I have family in Chicago, and I’m also from the States like you, but from CT 🙂
What brought you to Birmingham, UK?
My husband is British and a Brummie (what they call someone from Birmingham) so I moved here a few months after we got married in the States.
We met through a mutual friend and actually had a long distance relationship. First time he met me, he had to meet my family too!
Awww. How did you decide you would move to him, in the UK, and not the other way around?
Our jobs didn’t make it easy for him to move. A lot of the degrees done abroad aren’t exactly transferable to the US, whereas my background as a pediatrician was easier to move across. We don’t recognize a lot of degrees in the States and make people redo a lot of their training.
I actually haven’t completely even settled in as a pediatrician because the qualifications are different here and a bit longer. I’m working as a general practitioner in a hospital for children now, and will probably have to train for a few extra years to make it back to where I was in the States.
I see, and I wish you luck with getting the qualifications!
What do you like most about living in Birmingham?
It’s a tough transition. I thought I wanted to live in London, but Birmingham is the second largest city in the UK, so what’s nice is that it’s still got a city feel to it, but it is almost a cross between a city and suburban town. I live close enough to the city that it’s convenient but far enough that it’s still quiet and peaceful where I live.
So I enjoy that type of accessibility – the ability to have fun, go to good places to eat (especially important for me since I only eat halal and there’s tons of options here!) but also be able to have a quiet walk around the parks when you wanna get away. Best of both worlds!
I’ve been here for a little over a year now! I moved here last November. Definitely is hard with the lack of sun during the winter.
Oh wow so you are still quite a newbie!
Yep 😂 learning all that British slang.
I’m curious to know what cultural differences or ways of living you picked up that are different to your life back in the US?
Since moving here, I’ve just noticed little oddities in the language. I initially wanted my Instagram to focus on this because it’s kinda funny thinking you already speak the language and then realize that simple words mean something different here!
For instance, “pants” here mean “underwear.” So I rarely use that word in public and if I do, I immediately correct myself and say “trousers” instead.
And then you realize that things that you loved in the States, just aren’t as common here: baked ziti, the first dish I made by myself as a teen, isn’t really a thing here. And everything I’m used to baking in the States is different. So for instance, I watch Great British Bake Off and they asked for contestants to make angel cake slices (sponge cake with layers of buttercream or jam) which looked so different to what I thought because I imagined angel foodcake made in a Bundt pan with egg whites.
Culturally, I’ve noticed Americans are crazier about iced drinks and we love our AC. So when the heat wave hit us, my other expat friend and I were shocked at how hot everywhere we went was because a lot of shops and stores just didn’t have AC.
Oh yes, I can definitely relate to the AC and heat. In Vienna it can be brutal sitting in one of the old buildings during summer 🙈
I hope to chronicle these oddities over time on my Instagram because they’re just funny.
Is there anything else, besides the AC, food and slang parts, that you have found or are currently finding challenging as an expat?
I think I’ve adjusted fairly well. Everything that’s challenging seems to be a minor inconvenience – smaller houses (and smaller everything!) and driving on the left side of the road. But after having gone back to the US a few times, I think I’ve realized both places have things that are great and things that could be improved on. Everything else is just about learning to be in a new environment!
Sweet. Thanks for sharing that!
What would you say are the top things to see and do in Birmingham? For people who would like to visit someday?
Cadbury World! American chocolate is not as amazing as British chocolate! Cadbury World is close by to Birmingham. Probably best with kids, but I love chocolate so couldn’t help myself.
I also love that most museums are donations based here, so I enjoy the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (they have good rotating exhibits) and ThinkTank (a science museum). I’m not much of a shopper but if you are, the Bullring and Merry Hill are really big!
Birmingham also has a lot of canals, so if you’re here and the weather is nice definitely a walk or a boat ride is essential.
And in the winter, the Christmas Market is the biggest outside of Germany and is just nice whether or not you celebrate.
Now I definitely have to go to Birmingham!
Restaurant wise there’s a lot of Michelin star rated ones. I haven’t yet sampled any, but the UK in general is known for Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi cuisine (here they would call it “Asian” whereas Americans would like be more specific and say “South Asian”).
Tipu Sultan is a nice restaurant in that genre. Ziryab’s though is my new favorite because it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet but has the most choices I’ve ever seen! A
Shere Khan’s is also great and I enjoyed Fargo’s for a good burger. Finishing off a meal with a good cup of chai is a must if you eat at these places and my fave is chai with saffron from Chaiwalla.
For dessert, Sweet, Eis Cafe and Heavenly Dessert.
Still working my way around town to discover good eats elsewhere!
Everything sounds fantastic.
Last question! What piece of advice would you give to expats?
That’s a big one. I think if you’re planning on moving abroad for whatever reason you need to have realistic expectations.
Some people imagine life abroad to be some sort of fantasy. They get enamored with the history or the buildings and forget that day to day life can at times be mundane. And then they compare things to back home- that’s a mistake.
You have to appreciate that every place you live or move to has good and bad things there, and you have appreciate the good rather than lamenting the things you miss back home. Not to say you won’t miss home, but when you go back, you might realize that living in the US wasn’t perfect either. No place is perfect so enjoy wherever you are in life to the best of your ability!
I hated it when I moved here, but now I’m almost defensive because I’ve really come to appreciate it – it’s just another place I call home.
Beautiful…thank you for sharing that.
Thank you! I’m off to be the ambassador for Birmingham now 😆
Might as well appreciate the beauty and opportunities we’ve gotten (I’ve seen way more of Europe in this one year than I did in all my years back home!)
Let me know if you come to Birmingham. Thanks for the opportunity to chat with you! Have a great day!
Take care, Munzareen!
About the Interviewer
Michelle Hrvat is the director of MyExpatCommunity’s Expat Interviews, and a fellow expat herself. Originally from the US, she has been living and blogging about Vienna, Austria since 2014. In her free time, she likes to do yoga, bake, and get involved in her local community.