This month we’ll have been in the UK for 6 months. As I’m writing this it’s all grey and rainy outside, typical British weather. In the 6 months we’ve been here, very little has actually been typical, but that’s made this journey just so much more exciting.
So much has changed for us over the last 6 months and if I think back to a year ago this time we had no idea we would be living in London! It’s been the biggest life change in more ways than we ever could have imagined, and it’s changed our view of the world completely.
Everything is New
Moving to a new city and a new country has been a very interesting experience. I say interesting because honestly, it’s been both good and bad at the same time.
At first there was the challenge to just figure out where everything was in this huge city. Slowly we’ve now gained a better geography of London, but sometimes I still get very confused about where East and South London is. You know when you just KNOW this about a city you grew up in, I miss that here. People will talk about places in London, and in the country, and I’ll have no idea why they are referring to it a certain way.
It can definitely slow down a conversation, but at the same time we’ve come here with a completely clean slate. Zero bias. We went to a coastal town called Southend-on-Sea the other weekend and when we spoke to British people about it most of them turned their noses up and said it was a real dump. We found it to be the exact opposite. It was a beautiful town, clean, well kept, history and so much to do and see. The people were friendly, and things weren’t overpriced or too commercial. Because we came here with zero expectations and knowledge, we are now able to draw our own conclusions, find our own places we enjoy.
Food is usually the first thing you miss about home when moving to another country. There are a lot of things we do miss, but we’ve been lucky enough to bring most of them over during our visits back home (like my favourite Spur sauce, All Gold and Mrs Balls of course). But we’ve also been lucky enough to have an amazing grocery store near us that sells fresh, delicious food at normal prices. When we were back in South Africa in September for our visit I was almost disappointed in the quality of fresh foods back home compared to here.
Being Sick in a New Country
But food and staying healthy hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Three months in I ended up in hospital because of extreme bloating and abdominal pain. At first, they thought it was my appendix, then a cyst and finally they said they couldn’t help me and that it was more than likely IBS brought on by stress. It makes complete sense, but it didn’t make me feel any better to know that the doctors here, in a first world country, couldn’t really help me.
I did however realise how incredibly lucky people here in the UK are to have NHS (National Health Insurance). Sure, it doesn’t pay for everything, but I spent a night in hospital, had every scan and x-ray for my abdomen you could think of and later some follow up tests as well, and it didn’t cost me a cent. Back in South Africa you either don’t have medical aid and have to rely on the public health system which is completely overwhelmed and will never do all these tests for you just because you’re having a bloated tummy. Or you do have medical aid and they’re more than happy for you to have the tests and scans done, but you will be slapped with a bill a few months later because despite paying a quarter of your salary towards a system that’s supposed to keep you healthy, they never cover all the costs. Now I know there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes in the health care system in South Africa, but I feel so lucky that I experienced this pain here in the UK, where they were willing to work through all the possibilities and not just tell me to pay up.
Some good has come from my health issues. It’s forced us to rethink the way we live and eat and forced us to slow down. I’m planning on writing a full blog post at a stage about how we changed our eating habits to heal my tummy and sustain ourselves better, but we also slowed down our lifestyle.
For me that’s ment more yoga, starting to run track again. I’m doing the exercises I’ve always loved again, and my body is responding with gratitude. We’re running more and challenging ourselves is now fun because the rest of our lives are slower.
Our jobs are both pretty busy and stressful, so we know as soon as we walk out of that office we need to slow down. It’s meant choosing to walk or cycle, or scooter for me, to work and not take public transport. Being able to walk back home together after work at least once a week is an incredible privilege (that we know many people here don’t even have). It’s something we really treasure and that I know I’ll keep as special moments forever. Instead of getting sucked into the grind of the commute, we talk about our day and stop to see how the swan babies have grown from little white balls of fluff to grey awkward teenagers.
Travelling the World
Travelling has definitely been one of the highlights for us moving here. In these 6 months we’ve been to 2 countries outside of the UK and we’ve been to places many British people have never even been to. The Lake District, Inverness in Scotland, Ireland and some beautiful coastal towns to name a few. And we’re not planning on stopping anytime soon. Our first European trip to the Netherlands is coming up in November and more to follow after that.
First Visit Back Home
Our first visit back home in September was a difficult one though. I knew it would be busy, but I didn’t expect it to be as difficult as it was.
We immediately felt the effect of the recession on the South African economy. Prices for everything had gone but, even the toll gates! Despite being very happy to see all the familiar places and people, things didn’t completely feel like home anymore. I hadn’t realised how much we had changed until we were back home. We were now removed enough to see the good the bad and definitely the ugly that was happening in South Africa. There were definitely some experiences that left us feeling very sad and disappointed in our home country.
The worst about being back home was probably how much people told us that they wished they could leave as well. I understand the feeling because a year ago I would have said exactly the same to someone in my shoes, but being on the receiving side of it is slightly different. The changes you go through, the difficulties and the growing up you have to do when you move to another country, is not easy. You have no idea what it is to leave everything you know and love and move somewhere completely unknown where you will always be a foreigner.
People kept on asking us what our plans were going forward, are we staying in the UK or what. We had to be honest and say, we don’t have any plans right now. Living with the uncertainty that we currently have forces us to live in the moment and to make the most of that. We have dreams and things we are working toward, but it’s slightly different now from your average young adult just married, bought a house and starting a career plan. Sometimes I do worry about the future, and all the questions during our visit home pushed me into anxiety overdrive because I realised how different our view of time now was. But to be honest, living this way has helped me deal with a lot of my stresses and issues and if having less of a plan is what I need to feel more relaxed then that’s what I will do.
Now that we’re back in London I miss my people and culture immensely, but I’m also so happy to be here and I can really say London has become home for us. It’s difficult having your heart feel at home in two places. Sometimes it feels like you’re cheating on one or the other. But I also feel incredibly blessed to be able to call two places home and that our move here has been so smooth and brought us so much joy.
We still have a year of our set plan in front of us and I am so excited what this next year will hold for us. More growth, more adventure and travel, and more happiness.