Mezzo-soprano and actress Claudette Hatcher is a polyglot with a passion for life, which she pursues to the fullest. Claudette has traveled across the United States performing in musicals and dramas, mainly Shakespeare, and appearing in independent and short films.  However, it was a call to sing in a joint production of “Porgy and Bess” with the English National Opera and the Dutch National Opera, that had her leaving the U.S. She found herself living in London and Amsterdam and in the end, finding what truly makes her happy.

Tell us about your journey to pursue your profession abroad?

Honestly, signing opera abroad was just a dream. I studied classical voice in high school and college, but I had a wide range of interests, not because I wasn’t focused, I wanted to pursue anything and everything I found interesting. I played the violin, viola, cello, flute and dabble with the piano. I did stage acting, as well as, musical theatre.  I also sang in school choirs, as well as, in my own jazz band. Even my major covered a wide range – Foreign Languages and International Politics with a focus on French and Russian, Middle Eastern Studies, Russian Foreign Policies and International Organizations.  I also speak Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, German and tried Arabic (which I pick up again just a couple of years ago). So in my senior year when my voice teacher said I could have a career in opera, it was added to my list of teaching English in Japan or working in the US Embassy in Moscow.

With my languages, it had always been a desire of mine to live abroad. Japan won, but I didn’t lose my passion for performing.  While abroad I played the lead in a few Shakespearean plays, was the lead singer in two rock bands and even sang with my students’ koto club.

It wasn’t for several years after I returned stateside that I started pursuing a career in opera. I traveled the country doing the young artist program and competition circuit. I won a few competitions and was accepted into the Houston Ebony Opera’s Young Artist Program.  I landed a few roles locally in Seattle, including singing in three operas with the Seattle Opera. Then travel opportunities came up that I couldn’t resist, such as going to London and seeing La Bohėme at the Royal Opera House and dining on the Eiffel Tower on my birthday. After this trip, my first trip to Europe, I joined a travel club and spent the next several years traveling and working to feed my renewed passion.

Then another opportunity surfaced: I was hired to sing with Seattle Opera again in Porgy and Bess.  About a week or so into rehearsals I received an invitation to sing in Porgy and Bess with the English National Opera’s joint productions with the Dutch National Opera. To not only travel, but to live and work in London and Amsterdam, it was a dream come true and the best of both worlds.

IMG: The Dutch National Opera and Ballet. Maria Eklind. Flickr. Creative Commons.

How difficult was it for you to leave the US and live and work abroad?

There were a few challenges in getting ready to be away from home.  It was much different now than when I lived in Japan. I wasn’t just out of college, I had a home, bills to pay, social and motorcycle groups to run – responsibilities.

I’d have to say the biggest difficulty was finding lodgings in London, then Amsterdam. It took about a month to settle on a contract.  Luckily I had a legal service to help, but having an agent who was versed in European opera contracts would have been better.

As most people know London is expensive, Amsterdam was more so as I was trying to find continuous lodgings during Christmas and New Year’s Day. It was more of the same of some renters trying to scam people with the promise of a nice and affordable place.  Luckily, this time, I wasn’t the only person having issues finding lodgings and the opera company arranged apartment hotels within of housing allowance. Nevertheless, I must admit, the trade off of living out not one dream but two was worth the challenges. For weeks I was walking around in a fugue state, just thrilled to be singing opera with a prestigious opera house hired sight unseen, as it were/solely on the recommendation at that. Then to be able to pop over to Paris, Lyon, Berlin, Brussels and Edinburgh for little getaways, using my French and German, respectively, with native speakers was icing on the cake.

What resources did you utilize to assist you in preparing to move?

Beyond making arrangements with friends and family taking care of my home, car, motorcycle and social groups, I had my legal service to help me review my contract.  I even turned to an opera singer I had worked with who lives in Europe to get tips as well.  But I heavily relied on the opera companies.  ENO was great in helping me with the visa process and arranging my flights, as well as helping me find a place to live.  DNO was also helpful with the visa and booking my return flight of choice.  I also used some FB community and travel groups to get some info.

What would you do differently if you were starting your move again?

The first thing – get into better shape. I tend to blame the West Coast car culture for not walking as much.  Doesn’t help that I’d rather ride my motorcycle than ride a bicycle.  Regardless, I should have prepared myself for all of the walking I’d do and all the stairs I’d climb (not just from using the tube, but at the opera house and rehearsal studio), despite the fact I live in a townhouse.

Next, I would have researched my contract options and included a clause for workplace accidents. Sadly I fell at rehearsal, tearing a ligament in my ankle rather badly, just after a month of my stay.

What challenges did you face professionally and/or culturally while working abroad?

The biggest challenge for me was my accident. I had no clue how slowly the medical system moved in London and how overwhelmed the system was. For example, it took me 8 weeks to get into physical therapy, and the paper referral was lost for about 5 weeks.  Btw, it normally takes 6 weeks after the appointment with the specialist.  So I didn’t get in until 3 days before I left the England. On the flip side, in the Netherlands, I got in to see a doctor 3 days after I called and had 2 PT appointments, all within 2 weeks and during a holiday season.

Culturally ,it’s been little things like trying to understand accents and slang in London and not being able to speak or read the language in Amsterdam, not having 24 grocery stores and taking time to find where to find cold medicine and makeup.

What are 3 things you would advise anyone considering moving abroad?

  1. The main thing – DO IT!  While I’ve traveled a lot, there’s nothing like living abroad, mingling with the locals and learning about the place you’re in and where you’re from, even if it’s just for 1.5 to 3 months.
  2.  Get a credit or bank card with zero or low foreign transaction fees. Also look into international online bank accounts.  This could save you a bunch of money and headaches.
  3.  Get out and explore your city, country and even neighboring countries.  Take advantage of what living abroad has to offer.  Join a Meetup.com group to do fun things with locals. Don’t be afraid to ask colleagues about discount things to extend your money, such as the equivalent of dollar stores, the most economical ways to travel, or EuroSnap discount fares on the Eurostar.
  4. I need one more – be flexible, go with the flow.  Things may not go as smoothly or what you may think of as locally, but remember you’re having an experience of a lifetime and only a few experience  it. So smile.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned since leaving the US?

Oh wow, that’s a tough one. More than learning, previous lessons were reinforced, such as:
The world is not, or more than, what the media portrays.  Biggest is how diverse the population is in London and Amsterdam.  Especially in Amsterdam, I wasn’t expecting to see so many brown faces.
I appreciate my American lifestyle even more. While there are things I love about living in London and Amsterdam – my grocery deliveries, the older architecture, the dining opportunities, the Boris bikes, the great public transportation…There’s something about being able to drive my car to work or taking my motorcycle out for a joy ride or fun commute, the convenience of 24 hour grocery stores and having seemingly unlimited choices at my fingertips for example.  But there is something about not being a foreigner, an expat or other labels you assume when living abroad.  Not that it’s bad, it’s just different and takes time to get used to.

I’ve learned a lot about me, what truly makes me happy, how flexible I can be, how to handle challenges without the local support system I’m used to having, how to make friends and even date. But most of all it made me feel even more grateful for this and other opportunities I’ve had throughout my life.  This was a dream I didn’t think would come true and despite the challenges, pain and tears, I am so glad I had this opportunity and took it!  I’d do it again, minus the fall.

 

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