It has been a little more than a week since I arrived in Oxford, UK, to do my Masters in Digital Publishing, and honestly, it has been a flurry of emotions. I had made the decision to move to the UK a very long time ago and have been set on living this dream for so long that I feel I was actually less prepared for it than I had thought. Not only was I moving half way across the world and leaving my family, friends, boyfriend and lovely rabbit, Olive, behind, but it would also be the first time I travelled on my own and the first time I would really be living on my own (because 8 months of living on your own in a house less than 10 minutes from my parents really does not count).
Everything happened so quickly at the airport and before I knew it I was on the plane. The tears streamed down my face every once in a while, but I was so tired from getting everything ready that all I wanted to do was sleep. I was lucky enough to sit by the window and have an open seat next to me so I was flying in luxury for my first flight to Abu Dhabi. Flying with Etihad Airways was wonderful. The planes were new, the food was great (we even got a printed menu), the earphones, pillow and super-soft blanket was amazing and overall the service was great. The fact that I was still able to take 30kg was a blessing as well because I don’t know how I would have fitted my life for a year into 25kg (as it is, I feel lost with the limited amount of things I could bring with me now). Of course, I was that person wearing three jackets when checking in because I had no space for them in my bags and that ment always dropping things because I didn’t have enough hands and being sweaty and way too hot while waiting in line. Now I’m glad I went through that because I don’t know what I would have done without these jackets!
It was when I arrived in the UK that everything finally hit me. There was no turning back, I was 11 000km away from home, I was alone, completely alone, and I hoped with all my heart that I was not making the biggest mistake of my life. My luggage was so big and heavy that I started getting cramps in my arms from the carrying and pushing. My big roller bag even got stuck in a crack in the road and I fell over it, face first onto the ground. England was saying hello in a hard way, literally. I arrived in Oxford around 4 in the afternoon and had no idea where my halls were. After a bit of struggle and the help of a very friendly accommodation officer at the university (because as I was told very bluntly by a lady there, they were actually closed and I thought to myself, well thank you for leaving the girl who flew 15 hours to get here on the street) I found it and was booked in. I had nothing, no food no clue where to look for anything. So I blindly walked in the direction where I saw a few shops when on the bus. This was of course right as it was getting dark. The typical South African in me kept on thinking, “walk faster, walk faster, you can’t be outside when it’s dark” (one of the many things about me my new friends here find very funny).
I was glad I arrived a day earlier. It did mean I spent the first night very alone, but it also ment I had the whole Saturday to sort out my things. The international student organisation at the university organised a walking tour of Oxford inner city which was my introduction to the city of which I had been dreaming for so long. This was a wonderful initiative as I saw which bus to take, where the shops were and gave me a general understanding of the city. So as soon as the tour was over I set off on my own to buy plates, cutlery, towels (I dried myself with my clothes the first night yes), some food and other essentials. The reality of living in a European city and not having a car and using public transport all the time dawned on me very quickly. Firstly, I was not prepared for a sunny England so I was sweating like you would on a good summers day in South Africa under my jersey. Secondly, the shopping bags in England are the thinnest, worst things I have ever seen! Believe me, I would much rather pay for a bag and it’s proper and does not rip half way back home (yes it happened but I will get back to that in a moment). Thirdly, I also did not realise that you only have two hands, which means two big bags maximum, one for each hand. And lastly, buses in Oxford are always late. If the board says the bus will arrive in 20 minutes rather work on 45 minutes. I was struggling down the hill to my residence (which by the way, is at the bottom of Headington Hill, the suburb where the campus is located and yes it is literally a hill), bags banging against my legs (the bruises are turning a nice yellow now) and losing feeling in my hands, when my bag just ripped open from the one side to the other and everything fell out. Luckily nothing broke, but I stood there staring at my situation in disbelief. I was furious that this was what shopping was like in a first world country compared to us back home in our “developing country”. By chance, a girl was walking by and she had a bag and gave it to me (I mean what’s the chance). This one barely lasted all the way to my room but we got there.
I was beyond tired and frustrated but I finally had a flatmate and there was the promise of free food from the international student organisation and that was where I met some of the wonderful friends I have now. It is amazing how things seem almost manageable when you have friends. We moaned about the fancy kids who’s parents came to drop them off and brought half their house with the car, and us all arriving here with the clothes on our backs basically.
In the last week I have had some great experiences. I have been getting to know the city better and exploring all its wonder (more on the weird and wonderful things of Oxford in an upcoming post). I have been to a pub or two, had a pint (and been asked for my ID because here if you look younger than 25 people ask your ID, so I’m not complaining), learnt we have closer grocery shops than mid-city, getting to terms with the noise associated with living in a hall with other students, realised that if I order tea here it won’t be lovely Rooibos, but very strong English black tea and finally I’m learning to actually use my coins to pay (because back home they are worth so little we almost forget about them but here you can pay for a tea with just coins).
I have been very blessed with amazing people on my way all through my time thus far. As I went through customs in Johannesburg a girl saw me crying and just came over and gave me a hug and told me she was also moving to the UK and leaving everything behind. We weren’t on the same flight but that hug gave me so much strength. After missing my first coach to Oxford from Heathrow I was desperate and asked the first official person I could find where I could find The Airline Bus Service and the man turned out to be the driver of the bus I needed to take and I felt safe for a moment. As I was struggling with my oversized bags down the hill to my halls a girl stopped, took one bag, took me to reception to book in, waited and came with me all the way to my room. The girl who gave me a bag when mine broke and the girl who kept my phone safe for me when I forgot it on a couch in the library and waited in that spot until I came back. I even met my friend who is currently finishing up her masters here on the bus on my first day in Oxford and being able to speak Afrikaans for a few minutes and seeing she survived this year was just what I needed.
I am also so very grateful for the WIFI in this place! It is everywhere and works really well most of the time (some people here complain but the internet is pretty amazing here compared to back home). It has helped so much in still giving me that lifeline to home. Skype and Whatsapp have really been my saving grace!
I have also been really lucky in meeting an amazing group of people in this first week. They are so different, we all study different things and come from different countries but it has made me feel less alone because I know no one is really at home here.
There are a bunch of things that I still need to figure out and that I don’t like. The bus, of course is one, the way cellphone airtime and data works here is not very first world and the fact that no one ever gives you a slip except if you ask is frustrating if you’re trying very hard to budget. Food is also extremely expensive here! It feels like I am permanently shopping from Woolworths and fruit especially is expensive and not half as nice as back home (a lot of it even comes from South Africa at twice the price and half the size, so everyone who thinks our best fruit come here, think again). No one should ever complain to me about food prices after this. Luckily most shops have a 2 for 1 price sale on something at all times, so that helps.
The biggest realisation that being in Oxford for a week has instilled in me is how little we appreciate South Africa. I can already see some things that we do much better than the British and I am proud of that. I have become extremely proud and patriotic and I love telling everyone about my beautiful country and when asked whether I would go back after my studies, my answer has been a definite YES every time (to my own surprise). Everyone loves my JA instead of YES and I have grown to love it as well. I hope to learn a lot during my time in the UK and to bring the good back home, but I am also very set on staying true to my beautiful South Africa. The saying, you don’t know what you had until you don’t have it anymore, I understand it so well right now. I believe that England is my life challenge and my realisation that I am truly South African, my home, my people, the country of sunsets and smiling people. South Africa, the country of my heart. For now, England I hope you’re ready for this boertjie.