I blearily cracked open an eyelid, my proper first view of a London morning framed by the bright red struts of a dorm room bunkbed. Blinking, I peeped out the window over the sleepily setting up Borough High Street. The sky was overcast with the promise of rain, but I was simply too excited to care as the realisation dawned that it was my first full day on the other side of the world. 28 hours of flying (broken with a long stopover in Singapore) had taken me away from my family, but headlong into the biggest, scarily amazing adventure I could imagine.
Rolling over, I realised that my dorm mates were beginning to stir as well. Heads began to pop up from blue duvets and limbs began to stretch as I rubbed my eyes in utter disbelief. Here I was 11,659 miles from home, and across the room from me were 3 girls I had sat exams with in a small Auckland town; we had shared a few house parties and High School common room gossip, but over the ensuing years lethargy meant we had lost touch. Once the shock had worn off, we celebrated over cornflakes and mugs of coffee before we parted once again. They were off to Scotland on a week long bus tour, but I set about establishing a life here in the capital.
What is with all of these musings? It’s coming up to my 9th anniversary of stepping onto London Tarmac, and when serendipitiously Lebara contacted me about working together on a post about the joys of expat communication, it seemed like a nice excuse to look back with a few musings on my first few months in a strange country.
Contrary to waking up that morning to familiar faces, I soon learned that when you arrive onto British shores there are usually 3 main challenges;
- Finding a job that pays the bills,
- Sussing out an area
to live that’ll suit your wallet + not cause you to have a 2 hour
each way commute
- Establishing new networks of friends.
There are also a plethora of smaller challenges; finding a really good Flat White (it’s much better now, trust me, we’ve progressed a heck of a lot in 9 years), understanding the intricacies of office Tea protocol (get your round in and always ask everyone if they’d like a cuppa even if they don’t drink it) and keeping in touch with home, even though all you’ll want to do on a Saturday morning is recover, rather than reassure your parents that everything’s ok.
Of course whilst you’re going about all of this, home beckons like a lasciviously easy option. The well-worn comfort of your parents, friendship networks established over years of strawberry cheesecake and business contacts you never even realised existed. And there you are starting anew. Some lucky people come over with friends, or to groups of old mates which cushions the shock, but not me, I decided to do it my way.
I was young, on my own, living in a hostel, on the other side of the world to my worriting parents and somehow trying to organise a new life in a strange city. When I first arrived in the UK – what seems like aeons ago now – smartphones were but a sparkle in the corporate tech developers eyes. My folks were being updated through phone calls on a rather dilapidated shared phone mounted in a corner of the hostel common room using credit from pre-paid cards that I picked up from the local corner store.
I’d occasionally splurge on the eyewateringly expensive hostel dialup – especially when you convert it to New Zealand dollars – to dash off very excited emails & the occasional facebook photos. I’d also visit the local library to search for jobs, frantically scribbling down the names & phone numbers of possible leads that I would call from my brick of a cell phone (usually hoping they’d call me back because I only had 56p worth of credit left). Once I landed a job, stereotypically pulling pints (Kiwis and Australians seem to have kept the pub trade rolling along for many years; we were cheap, cheerful, reliable, prone to annual leave limited exploring and kept taste-testing the produce, much to the delight of the Landlord’s ringing till) it was many months before a UK bank thought to trust me with enough credit for a phone plan.
I suspect these days things are a little different – dial-up is but a distant nightmare dream but it must be an interesting challenge staying in connection with family and friends; uploading ‘hotdog legs on the beach’ photos to Facebook, adding fish pout selfies outside iconic landmarks to Instagram and updating those ever-changing travel plans with your family so they know just which country you are in. If you’re a new expat these days, the internet can be such a wonderful place for getting in contact with like-minded travellers in such a huge city like London – hello Twitter & blogging!! Communication is still so vital.
(…though I’m pretty sure in many ways my Dad wishes we could go back to a simpler communication method and that I’d send him less photos of exotic building cornicing…)
Lebara have just launched a new website which is continually growing and aimed at helping people connect and to my delight they also have a foundation that is helping communities around the world to connect in ways they never imagined. They kindly sponsored this post in order to keep our travel fund topped up for future fun.