Interview with Lucy and Adrian Kenyon

Interview by Kim Waddoup

Photos by Adrian, Lucy and the family

Lucy Kenyon and Adrian Cooper decided several years ago that Moscow would be a challenge and they moved here. Now after 4 ½ years they are heading home. Moscow expat Life thought that their experiences would help many people plan their move here. Lucy and Adrian were kind enough to share some of these experiences with us.

Adrian, please tell us a little about your job and your company. How did Russia first come to your attention? I assume that it was your company that first suggested your working here?

Adrian
Indeed. Barry Callebaut is a global chocolate provider operating on a B2B basis, with 50+ factories around the world, with one to the south of Moscow in Chekhov. I’d been with the Group for 7 years already, doing various finance roles, and was given the chance for promotion as a Regional CFO to go to either South America or Russia. After looking at the options we decided on Russia, as it seemed to be more exciting and culturally different, and we also thought that it would be safer for our daughters.

Previously I hadn’t thought of moving overseas, although I had told my boss that I wanted a new challenge, having done an MBA in the UK. At the same time, our Group was carving up the Western European chocolate market, which was growing at say 2% -3% p.a, from the faster growing, more dynamic Eastern European countries, to enable a more targeted management approach. This created a new Regional CFO role for which I was chosen.

Lucy, what was your first reaction when your heard the word Russia?

Lucy
I was thrilled about the idea of coming to Russia, as my grand mother came here in 1963, on an exchange programme between the Pioneers and the Girl Guide movements. She kept diaries, so as soon as I heard the word Russia I was very excited.

Adrian
I didn’t know anything about Russia, its culture, politics or language, so I was the one who was thinking that this is really going to be a challenge, and that it might be a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience also.

So this was your first overseas posting; the expat life was a relatively new thing for both of you?

Lucy
I was a 3rd culture kid myself, having been brought up speaking Flemish in Belgium, and had watched my mum struggle with a semi-expat experience. But this was my first posting as an adult. Despite this, our inexperience led to some stressors that could have been avoided in the end.

Adrian
I was moving from a sleepy provincial central-England town to a big city, which was a new experience to me, so I knew it would take some time to adjust.
I presume that for both of you going to Russia meant new work possibilities, but what about the children? How old were they when you moved?

Lucy
They were 8 and 9, which I felt, having done a similar move a little bit earlier as a child, were ideal ages to come with us to Russia. I wanted them to go to a Russian school and become completely immersed in Russian, but the Russian system is quite old fashioned and structured and they had come from the English system where they were used to teamwork with an emphasis on creativity. So we felt it was probably better for them to go into an International School where the system was similar to what they had been used to.

Adrian
When we told friends and family that we moving to Russia, they were the ones who said: “are you mad?, isn’t it unsafe and unfriendly?” and all these usual clichés. Many westernized preconceived ideas about Moscow are actually wrong, in our experience now.

So the discussion was there about a job in Moscow, did you then come to Moscow to have a look?

Adrian
Yes, we came for a week in May 2009, to have a look around. We looked at about 14 apartments, I met with work colleagues and discussed things, and we did the usual tourist stuff – Red Square, museums and a boat cruise. We actually thought that Moscow was nice. One shock we did have was when we went for a coffee at a well known Moscow coffee chain, where we had the usual lattes and the kids had freshly squeezed apple juice etc., the bill was £80! That was a wake-up call to the cost of living. The children wanted to come, but only if we could live near Gorky Park [which had fairground rides 4 years ago]!

What professional help did you enlist to help you find a place to live?

Lucy
Very little – the company expat arrangements were in their infancy if even thought about! I searched on-line for Moscow rental apartments, and found 3 agents who appeared to be able to offer what we wanted. One just did a database search and gave us 50 choices – an impossible task, as we had no idea about which areas of Moscow we should be considering. Tatiana of Intermark came back with 5 apartments. They said they had looked at the school location, where Metros were, and where Adrian’s factory was and the locations were realistic with the apartments they selected.

Adrian
I realised quickly there were seemingly small things that would impact my drive to work; e.g. if the apartment was on the wrong side of a street I would have to make a long extra journey just to make a U-turn to get myself into the right direction!

Then the big day came, you packed everything up and arrived here?

Adrian
Yes, with the usual ‘moving chaos’ things got packed to storage which were needed and items arrived in Moscow, which we didn’t need. The lesson learnt was that you have to be around when the packing is done!.

How long did you get to move in before you then went to work?

Adrian
One day! I started at work on the second day. Initially I wasn’t aware of the enormity of the commute, as when I came here for the taster week I was driven to Chekhov by somebody else. So driving 80 km each way myself was a big challenge, and to adjust to the Russian driving style. Back in 2009, the roads weren’t as good as they are now, [the driving is still as mad] so it was 1.5 hours most mornings and evenings it averaged 2 hours. That was a massive shock from having a 35-minute commute in Warwickshire!

Can you remember how your first day at work was?

Adrian
I was surrounded by what I thought were foreigners, but of course I was the only foreigner there! I couldn’t understand the language, but they were all very friendly. It was a noisy, busy office, lots of people shouting as a mode of work, which I quickly learnt was actually quite normal.

We want to call the expat ladies the ‘unsung heroes’ for what they must do and achieve. What were your thoughts Lucy, when you think of that great day of unpacking?

Lucy
It actually coincided with Swine Flu, so the school in Moscow said, if you are coming in from the UK, then please don’t come to school for seven days! So I had the girls at home with me for the first ten days, to honour what the school had asked of us. In hindsight this may have affected how well they settled in and I would now make sure to arrive well in time for the start of a school term.

Adrian
Then there were many challenges, like getting a Russian SIM card, an Internet provider, trying to find and buy a TV – all relatively simple if you could speak Russian!

Lucy
Our landlady helped with the Internet, we have had a good relationship with her. I was also trying to get around to the British Women’s Club, and trying to access people, because I naturally like being with people.

Adrian
You managed to find a job quite quickly though.

Lucy, did you look for work before you came, or did you find work here?

Lucy
I couldn’t look for work due to the visa situation, however I have been very lucky and I have managed to get jobs that don’t require me to have a work permit. I worked for the American FLEX Scholarship programme as a seasonal worker, judging essays written by Russian students applying to go on a cultural exchange with American families for a year.

Then swine flu kicked off in Moscow, and both our children came down with it in October; so I was in communication with the school to support their stance on infection control, as I was a public health nurse in my other life. I then got a volunteer job of Parent Liaison and Admissions, until April 2011. Then I worked at the British Embassy, where I have remained ever since, as the Community Liaison Officer. Embassy jobs are great because they are not subject to the same visa restrictions as the host and employing countries.

How did your two daughters take the whole thing; the move, coming here, they sound like amazing kids for what they have done.

Lucy
They are absolutely incredible. It’s not been easy for either of them. Our older one is quite quiet, she likes her structure and her routine, so it’s actually been quite challenging, although she has done incredibly well. However she’s looking forward to being back in the UK. The younger one is very social and missed her friends and probably cried every day for 6 months, even though she made lots of friends here. They are active children, always out and about, in Gorky Park and town a lot.

You integrated very quickly into the various expat scenes here, what advice would you give to expat families when they’re planning to move here? Would you suggest that they make contacts before they come, or wait until they are in Moscow?

Lucy
I think getting in contact and finding some buddies for everyone in the family is really important. I’ve been very actively involved in the British Women’s Club, and we’ve been very keen on welcoming people – including before they arrive. Everyone is worried about the flat and the school but in fact having somebody to talk to and having someone to show you around are most important. Moscow is very accessible; the public transport system is very good, once you know how to use it.

Adrian
The key is where you live as to what kind of expat experience you get. In a closed compound area, mostly in the outskirts of Moscow it is great for meeting other expats, and good for the kids because they are near others. Or you can live in the centre, where you won’t have expat friends next door, but where you can be right in the centre of Moscow life. For us this was more important and a lot more fun/interesting, than a compound community based living where you have everything to hand, but it wasn’t for us a true Moscow based experience.

What have been your main highlights of being in Moscow?

Lucy
My main highlight of being in Moscow is that I effectively went back to my twenties in London, and I’ve had the most fabulous time being a city girl, going out with friends and partying. It’s been absolutely brilliant.

Adrian
One of the best experiences would have to have been riding an old sleigh through the snowy woods in Sergiyev Posad one New Year, and cooking food on an open fire in – 30ªC, whilst a local Babushka made tea on a samovar in the middle of the forest! Moscow is very much what you make of it, the experience depends on what group of friends you make, Russians, Expats, or both. We were lucky enough to make many people from a wide variety of nationalities in Moscow, and they provided a great support network also.

What has been the bad side of living and moving here?

Lucy
Well they do say that relocation is the most stressful thing you can do in your marriage, and I do think that is true. However I do think that overall, the whole experience has been absolutely incredible, and we are going home much more resourceful, and we have a lot more emotional resilience.

Adrian
Most of my worst experiences in Moscow are related to my 800 km per week drive. Once I was stuck for 1 hour in a queue without moving an inch, and decided to make a ‘u’ turn across a white line to escape. I thought I had made this without being seen, but 1 kilometre down the road I was flagged over at a police checkpoint, and ‘invited’ inside and greeted by a group of officers cradling their Kalashnikovs. After 30 minutes of ‘intense’ negotiations, the ‘fee’ came down considerably.

Was there one particular low point where you felt that we shouldn’t have been here?

Adrian
My mistake was not learning more Russian – as this isolates you from many simple daily routines, and you really need to communicate to get the most out of living here.

In their future lives, how do you think the girls will remember their time in Moscow?

Lucy
I think that they will be more adaptable, and I think that it will help them find jobs more easily in the future. In the future they will be competing with lots and lots of international candidates who have more than one language who will be at an advantage over English speaking candidates who only have one language. I think the girls will also have the advantage of not fearing going somewhere new, and being able to learn a foreign language relatively easily.

Now that you are leaving, may I ask you to share some of your advice for business people or families who are contemplating a move here? Where do they start to research things?

Lucy
The first thing to do is to make sure that the package is correct, and that you get all the support you can get. As Moscow becomes more organised I think having a driver is really important, and having a company car is also a big benefit. They have imposed visa restrictions brought in to stop foreigners committing civil offences. Moscow is a much less chaotic place now than it was, but it is essential to make sure that you have all the relevant information about what you can or can’t do in Russia, as you can’t wing it so much any more. I think come to Russia if you are interested in coming to Russia, don’t come to Russia thinking that Russia is going to accommodate you, because it won’t. If you do try to learn the language and you respect people, then you get a lot out of the country.

Adrian
We made use of the various expat chat rooms, such as expat.ru these are useful to look at before you come here, to find out things like what is it like living in a certain area. You can ask questions, you may get a biased answer back, which you need to judge on their own merits. For work, you should get involved with a business club, for us it was both British and Belgium Business Clubs. You can find people who can tell you what the unwritten rules are for doing business and what you can and can’t do. You need strong networks and friends to survive and enjoy it here.

It has primarily been expats who have been in your network?

Adrian
Mostly, yes, from a wide number of countries.

Lucy
My closest friends are some British, Belgium, Dutch and Armenian ladies, and they have been a massive support. And I have a Russian friend who I’ve met pretty much on a weekly basis, for a coffee, who has been very supportive, so I have friends both local and in the expat community.

Lastly, if you could take one memento from Moscow, what would it be?

Lucy
Russian pop music.

Adrian
I’d like a policeman’s hat.

Moscow expat Life would like to wish Lucy, Adrian and the girls all the best in their future life back in England. These are two expats who came and become part of our multi-cultural society. Those of you that knew them will miss them, but that’s the expat way of life!