This week's expat interviewee Yvonne Sanders shares her inspiring story about how she transformed herself from an overweight pub manager in the UK to running a Slimming World franchise in the United States. Here she tells us what she misses the most about life in the United Kingdom and offers some sound advice for would-be expatriate entrepreneurs.
Can you please tell us a little about your background and what initially made you move to Texas?
I'm a 39-year-old married mum of two. As a child, I was really very active. I was on every sports team going! When home computers were introduced and my parents bought one for the home, I became less active - more sedentary. My weight started to increase from here. In the early years of our marriage, my husband Andy and myself were pub managers in the UK, and this social lifestyle, eating unhealthy food, working long hours led to my weight continuing to increase. In 1999, after having tried every diet, pill and supplement that I could at home (and always ending up heavier!), I joined my local Slimming World group in Hertfordshire, UK. I went on to lose 63lbs and was so happy with my weight loss and how great I felt, that I applied for a District Manager position with Slimming World and started working for them in 2000. After being promoted a few times, in 2007 our Vice President and myself had a conversation about me re-locating to the USA to launch Slimming World outside of the UK, and so, along with Andy and our two sons, we moved to Frisco, Texas in July 2009.
What are your favorite things about living in the U.S.?
The family having the opportunity to visit new places and experience different cultures. We've been fortunate enough to travel to many states and it's always an adventure; it’s just amazing how different each state is. In the UK we lived on a small Island called the Isle of Wight and so Texas and the USA in comparison are huge! From a work perspective - introducing Slimming World to those who are overweight and believe that they have tried everything before coming to us and finding true success - this never gets old! This is very materialistic (!) but I love that in Texas you get a lot of house for your money - we would never be able to afford a house this size in the UK.
What things do you least enjoy?
I don't think there's anything that we don't 'enjoy' - just things that we miss and things that it will take more time for us to get used to. For example, having being raised in a country that has a National Health Service, the health/health insurance system in the USA seems so complicated and unpredictable. I don't think that I'll ever get used to taking my son to the doctor and leaving with a $400 bill!
What things do you miss about the UK?
Of course the biggest thing that I miss is my family and friends, but we've been fortunate enough to be able to travel back to the UK once a year since we've lived in Texas. Technology of course helps and we Skype with family often. We really miss walking - to the shops, and especially to the pub. We miss the English pubs with the beer garden! There are certain foods that we all miss - English sausages, crisps (chips), bacon - this list is quite a long one! Although there are equivalents in the USA, they just don't taste the same when you've been used to something all your life.
What were your first impressions of life in the USA? Did you suffer from culture shock? How did you deal with your initial emotions?
Having only lived in Frisco, Texas, I'm not sure if this is just exclusive to where we live or something that we would have found wherever we lived in the USA. Of course living in Texas everything is so spread out, so the amount of time to travel just to get groceries etc. was a shock, as were the drive thru everything’s - banks, dry cleaners etc. but the drive-thru vet was the biggest surprise! Because the kids after school activities are privatized, rather than school led (the ones our kids attend are anyway!), more of your life seems to be spent running them around from place to place - and coupled with the distance, this just takes up pretty much every evening and weekend. I missed (and still miss) my close friends. I also experienced difficulties with people not understanding us - both in terms of our accents and also the words we were using. This could be alienating and frustrating at times. The biggest thing for us though was that in the early days of living in the USA, we compared everything to 'home' - to the UK. This made us unhappy and it wasn't until we learnt to accept that the two places aren't comparable, that we were able to move on and enjoy our life in the USA.
What advice would you give to someone who was relocating to America for the first time?
If you can, move to a new residential development. That way everyone is new and willing to put themselves out there to meet people. Get involved - whether it's volunteering at your children's schools PTA, church, your Home Owners Association, the local food bank - get out there and meet people. I found a great site named www.meetup.com - you can find local Meetup groups in your area relevant to your interests. I missed my girlfriends the most (still do!) so I joined some local girls’ Meetup groups. I made some great friends and had fun at the same time. Don't worry that you'll be the only new person - there are always new people and I've found everyone to be really friendly. There are lots of expat groups around - I did find that these made me feel more unsettled and miss home even more, so they didn't work for me, but I know that they are a real lifeline for others. An Internet search would bring up any expat groups local to you.
What key challenges did you face when trying to launch your business franchise in the USA?
There was no brand awareness. I went from working for a brand that is a household name in the UK to one that was totally unknown (apart from by British Expats!) in the USA. This meant that in a market as crowded as the weight loss market, people were skeptical. There are so many more so-called ‘solutions’ for weight loss in the USA than there are in the UK. Some (like pills) are just a distraction and some are just downright dangerous. But with so many myths and misconceptions around weight loss, with so much noise and mis-information, we had to work really hard (and still do) at convincing people that Slimming World is healthy, it’s not a scheme and that it’s here to stay.
What three top tips can you offer to expatriates who are considering starting their own business?
1 Do your research.
2 Really consider the cost of living (in the USA) - can you afford the health insurance costs and what it you were to get really sick - could you pay the hospital bills?
3 Do you have enough support in place? Moving to a new country is challenging enough but starting a new business adds a new dimension. Back home you would probably have the support of your family and/or friends network – who do you have here?
What’s next for Slimming World in the USA?
Continuing to grow and develop an excellent service to members. Slimming World is the UK’s leading independent weight loss company and we believe passionately that we’ve got something different to offer. The growth of the internet and online offers a huge opportunity for us to reach across the whole of the USA and Canada and share the unique support that Slimming World offers slimmers. Obesity is such a huge challenge and being able to help families to lead healthier lifestyles is our mission.
Read the full article: http://www.slimmingworldusa.com
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