A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about migration experiences

Halfway There, Or The Results of the Experiment

My wanderlust has been replaced with a settlelust.

overcast -2 °C

In all the action that has been happening in my life lately, the date of December 4, 2010 passed by me without a thought. It was only this morning, as I was contemplating life in the shower while waiting for the conditioner to work, that I realized the significance of last Saturday.

On December 4th, 2010, I had lived in the UK for two and a half years. The visa I am on is a five year visa, so December 4th, 2010 was the halfway point between the start and end of my visa.

Of course, at this point I plan to stay on in the UK beyond the end of my visa. In two and a half years from now, assume I have been resident in the UK for the five years and am employed; I will be able to get indefinite leave to remain, giving me the right to stay in the UK indefinitely.

So December fourth, 2010 is the midway point of my visa, but hopefully not the midway point of my time in the UK. Even so, the date is significant, and I felt I should sit back and think about what my time in the UK has given me.

I had, when I moved here, planned on making sure I took stock every six months on the anniversary of my landing in the UK. However, life got in the way.

On my first six month anniversary, I was working in Arizona, USA, and finding getting a job awfully tough, so taking stock of my time in the UK was too depressing. I did manage to do an inventory one year out, and last year spent a few months pondering my life in England as I gathered my thoughts after reading about existential migration. Mostly, though, I have been too busy working or living or travelling to do anything but cursorily note the passing of the date.

So today I sat down and had a think about my life in the UK over the past two and a half years. I wanted to be able to say something deep and meaningful about being an immigrant and what life abroad was like, but I couldn’t come up with anything profound. The truth of the matter is that living here is just life.

When I first came to the UK, the whole thing felt like an experiment. A great experiment to determine if I would be fulfilled living away from my native home. A feeling inside me suggested that moving overseas would be a good idea, but until I tried it, I couldn’t be sure if I would take to it.

The first year in the UK was rocky, but by the end of it I was starting to feel like I was settling in. Not just in the everyday sense of getting a job and a place to live and finding friends, but also in the emotional sense. I was feeling comfortable being in London, at being at home.

What perplexed me, back in June of 2009 on my one year anniversary, was why I was feeling settled. What was it about being in London that seemed to comfort me? A month later, one year and one month into my time in the UK, I stumbled upon the concept of existential migration, and came to the realisation that this was “the something inside me” that had driven the move overseas. I spent a few months delving deep into my psyche to examine my migration desires, and wrote a few blog entries on the topic.

Then something strange happened. Feeling settled, and with an explanation in hand that I was going through an existential migration, I stopped feeling the need to be introspective about my life abroad. My desire to be an immigrant didn’t go away, but my need to understand and explain it did. I stopped thinking about my life, and just spent my time living it.

I have now reached a point when I have stopped thinking about this being an experiment to live abroad, and I am now just comfortable in calling this my life.

It is a life different than what I lived in Toronto, though. When I was a consultant in Toronto, I spent most of my time on the road. If I was at home for a few weeks, I got itchy feet and wanted to travel again. In London, I don’t feel that way. I am happy being at home, and over the past year when I have had to travel to Hungary or Paris or Zurich, I actually wanted to make the trip as quick as possible to get back to my own bed. I actually would rather be at home than on the road. It is an anti-wanderlust – a settlelust.

This settlelust is reflected in the travel I haven’t done. I spoke in a previous blog entry about how uninspired I was in the build up to my planned trip over Christmas last year to Morocco, and how I wasn’t all that fused when it got cancelled. I also, when I came over, planned to spend at least one weekend away from London a month, taking advantage of fast trains and cheap flights to explore Europe. I haven’t even come close to meeting that plan. For the first year and half, I kept up the pretence of that being my goal, but that events transpired in a way that it kept getting interrupted. Now I don’t even really bother with the pretence of it anymore. Right now, I am just happy to be in London and in my own bed at night.

So on second thought, maybe I do have a big revelation – something profound to say. After two and a half years, I can say this. I am no longer just trying this “living away from Canada” thing. The experiment is over, and it was a success.

The transplant has taken. London is now my home.

Posted by GregW 10:15 Archived in England Tagged migration_experiences migration_philosophy Comments (0)

On the Eve of Upheaval

The last days of the past...

semi-overcast 12 °C

I know I wrote in my last blog entry that I was starting work this week, but I didn't. This week was a short week with Monday being a holiday, so my start date was pushed back to next Monday. Therefore, I had one more week of unemployed bliss before starting my new job.

The weather has been nice, so I've mostly been out wandering around. As I am moving away from the King's Cross area soon, I wanted a last few attempts to check out the area. This week included a trip to British Library beside St. Pancras station to see an exhibition on Maps.

British Library Plaza

British Library Plaza

British Library Isaac Newton Statue

British Library Isaac Newton Statue

British Library Interior

British Library Interior

There was a map from the 1680s - some 15ish years after the great fire - of London. You can see a zoomable flash version or a simple picture version online. What was interesting is that looking at the maps of the City of London and the southern part of Westminster, I was easily able to identify the streets. In fact, I could have taken the map down and very successfully navigated the streets using the old map.

My current home near King's Cross wasn't on the map (it would have been fields and small villages at the time), nor would me new home in Kensington, which also would have been outside of the urban area of London back in the 1600s.

After checking out the British Library exhibit, I headed to the local polling station to vote. Thursday was polling day in the local and national elections here in the UK (local elections only in England, but national in all four countries). As a Commonwealth citizen with residency in the UK, I was able to vote. Unlike the Euro elections last year, the national elections use a simple first-past-the-post system, where the person with the most votes gets the seat.

After watching 4 hours of election coverage on Thursday night, I went to bed at 2 in the morning with the result still being up in the air. Friday I woke up at 8:30 and picked up watching the coverage. The result was slightly less muddy in the morning, but still unclear. The UK woke up to a "hung parliament," with no one party winning a majority of the seats in the House of Commons. Coming from Canada, I'm used to minority governments, but its a very unusual situation here in the UK, and people are justifiably nervous about it at a time when the Eurozone is on shaky ground and the UK's debt load is historically high.


Come lunch, I went over to Chapel Market in Angel, Islington to grab lunch. I often head over to Chapel Market for lunch, both during the past 2 months of unemployment and during the previous 6 months of employment when I was working from home. Today as I walked through Chapel Market, I realized, starting work on Monday and moving out of the area in less than a month, this could be the last time I head over here for lunch.

I grabbed one of the best lunches available. First up a burger from the "Designer Burger" stall, where the proprietor calls his customer's agents - "Agent 2," he called out to me, being the second customer in line, "what would you like?"

"A burger - non-chilli - with cheese, please," I replied.

"Non-chilli with cheese," he confirmed, before moving on to get the order from Agent 3.

After my burger was prepared, I headed over to the Crown Fish and Chip Bar to pick up a large order of chips. Real, honest-to-God chips, with vinegar and salt. Ordered it for "take away," so they wrapped it up in brown paper for me.

Burger and chips in hand, which I have come to call my "Chapel Market Lunch," I headed home to see the rest of the election coverage.


I headed home and spent my last day of weekday freedom eating my last Chapel Market lunch and watching the leaders of the political parties discuss how to form the next government. How it will all shake out is still unclear, but what is clear that a minority or coalition government will be a change for the UK. Just like the change coming to my work life on Monday, and the change coming to housing situation in less than a month.

Days of upheaval are ahead, both for this country and me personally. I'm not scared, though. I'm excited.

Posted by GregW 09:59 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged living_abroad migration_experiences Comments (0)

The Safety Net Of Everywhere Else

How moving abroad once has impacted how I look at job hunting.

sunny 15 °C

As I wrote about a few blog entries back, January wasn’t the best month. Within the space of a couple weeks, I found out that I would neither have a place to live nor a place to work in short order.

Since that time, I’ve been a bit quiet in the blog on the job and house hunting front, so now I shall provide an update. I prioritized the job hunting, and have over the past couple months settled into that. Unlike my previous experience looking for work here in the UK, things were pretty active, and I was pursuing a number of opportunities.

The problem with opportunities, at least in my mind, is that they often become a reality - if you are lucky then by becoming something more concrete, but unfortunately more often winding up with a rejection letter. I’m always happy and excited when pursuing a new job, and will admit that getting that letter that says, “we had a number of qualified candidates, and have decided to go in another direction,” always bums me out.

I have, though, managed to remain pretty even keeled during this time. I noticed something interesting that was keeping my mood up. It was this little voice in the back of my head that kept saying, “worse comes to worst, there’s still all those other places...”


When I’ve been force to job hunt in the past, back when I was living in Canada and prior to moving to London, I always felt the pressure of finding something from the listings I could find for Toronto. “There’s only a finite number of jobs out there that I want,” I would think to myself. “I need to land one of these few options.”

This time around, though, I didn’t feel that same pressure. “If things don’t work out with one of these London opportunities,” I would tell myself, “I can always look somewhere else.”

In a sense, the rest of the world, including my homeland back in Canada, became a safety net for me.

Whether the rest of the world is actually a safety net is debatable, but that thought was there in the back of my mind, and that relieved a lot of pressure.

Before I moved here to London, the thought of starting a new job in a new city - in essence starting all over again - seemed too much to take on at once. It was too big a mountain to climb. Thinking about not getting a job in Toronto was too stressful, because it meant I would have to face that mountain.

Now, though, that I’ve moved to a new city, secured a new job and found new friends once, doing it again doesn’t seem that big a deal. I’d look at my options here in London, and if things didn’t work out, I’d look elsewhere. Looking for a job was no longer was about grabbing one of the limited set of opportunities where I was. Looking for a job is now about opening up to all the possibilities out there, where ever they may be. With a view like that, suddenly the world seemed a lot more fruitful of a place.


= = =

That being said, I won’t be travelling off to Dubai or Singapore or Panama City for a job. I have found one here in London, though like my previous jobs its as a consulting so I’ll likely shortly be back on the road and up in the air again. I start next Tuesday.

With the job sorted, it only took a week to sort out a new place to live as well. From my current North London base, I’m heading west to live squashed between the hip-rich of Notting Hill and Holland Park and the Aussie enclave of Shepherd’s Bush, straddling the line between the two. Yet another area of London to explore after I move in early in June.

So, with a new job and a new place to live, the fog of uncertainty is lifting and the future is clearer. While I have discovered that the world is my safety net, I’m looking forward to spending some more time setting up my life here in London.

Posted by GregW 03:10 Archived in England Tagged business_travel living_abroad migration_experiences Comments (1)

Ploughed Under

On the hunt... for both housing and work... again.

sunny 5 °C

I woke up today at 7:30 AM. I don’t know why. Probably force of habit. I’m used to getting up early in the morning, and even though I don’t have to, my body is still so used to rolling out of bed at that hour, it still does.

Two months ago, things seemed to be going along quite well. I’d been in the UK for a little over a year and a half, and I had a good job, a nice place to live, a decent group of good friends and was really starting to fell settled.

Then in quick succession, changes.

Firstly, mid-January I find out that my landlord decided to sell the flat I am renting. The flat isn’t sold yet, and even once it is I’ll get two months notice, so it’s not like I’m sleeping on the street just yet. However, it does mean that the shadow of change is hovering over me.

Then, less than two weeks after getting that little nugget of news, I find out that I am going to be unemployed in early March. Ironically, on January 26th, as the UK press was reporting that the UK economy was coming out of recession, I was finding out that I had a little over a month before my pay cheques would stop. A coworker in a similar boat said that he had joined the company because he felt it was recession-proof. “What I didn’t realise was the company wasn’t growth-proof,” he quipped.

Anyway, the details of my job loss aren’t really important, but the end outcome is that as of Monday, March 8th, I no longer have to get up in the morning to go to work.

To extend my (perhaps already overextended) metaphor of the green field a little further - it seems my green field has been ploughed under. I am back to where I was about when I wrote that entry back in July of 2008 - without a permanent place to live and without a job.


This though, I suppose is life. As Mary Schmich, columnist for the Chicago Tribune wrote in here column Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young (famously turned into song Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen) by Baz Luhrmann), “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.”

My random Tuesday was the 26th of January, though it was actually at a 10 AM meeting.

So I am back again with a mostly green field to build a new life on. This time, I have a head start, though. I have a a network of professional contacts to mine for opportunities. I have experience in the UK that I can point to, which many companies indicated as being a problem during my last round of job hunting. I’m not hunting during the deepest recession in a generation, like I was in 2008, but rather during a time of economy growth, even if it is slight and tenuous. Finally, I have a good group of friends here in the UK to support me in my quest.


So I am off to pound the pavement, and plant some new seeds that I hope to grow into opportunities. In 2008, I wound up in Phoenix before landing a job in the UK. Who knows where the hunt will lead this time.

Posted by GregW 03:24 Archived in England Tagged living_abroad migration_experiences Comments (0)

Look Up and Remind Yourself Where You Are

The difference between remembering that I LIVE in London and that I live IN LONDON.

sunny 11 °C

I’ve been back from Madrid for a couple weeks now, and have fallen back into the daily routine of work and home life. I was quite tired on returning from Madrid, and the scramble of catching up with what I had missed on my week away from work along with the nightly sessions organising my photos and writing up my five blog entries on my trip kept me busy.

This week has been more of the same - catching up on TV programmes missed while I was away (Flashforward and the new series of Top Gear mostly), doing planning for upcoming Christmas shin-digs and dinner parties, doing laundry, shopping for new shoes after my fall in Sintra along with the constant buzz of work. All in all, it is a lot like life.

In this daily rush of life, it is often easy to forget where I am. I don’t mean that in any sort of amnesiac sort of way. I am not walking around wondering to myself where I am, how I got here, what my name is and why I am covered in the blood of another man. (That would make a good opening for a short story or novel - anyone want to run with that?).

Rather, I mean that life gets you wrapped up so much in its minutiae that you miss the bigger picture. I get so focused on LIVING in London that I forget I am living IN LONDON.

Every once in a while though, I get pulled out of the fog of daily life to remember what I am living in another country and actually quite giddy about that. A recent event was last weekend. On my search for new shoes, I went down with my flatmate to the area around Covent Garden, where there is a number of outdoor shops all within a two block radius. The outdoor shop district, if you will. Much like the hammock district in Cypress Creek from the Simpsons.

Hank Scorpio: Uh, hi, Homer. What can I do for you?
Homer: Sir, I need to know where I can get some business hammocks.
Hank Scorpio: Hammocks? My goodness, what an idea. Why didn't I think of that? Hammocks! Homer, there's four places. There's the Hammock Hut, that's on third.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Hank Scorpio: There's Hammocks-R-Us, that's on third too. You got Put-Your-Butt-There.
Homer: Mm-Hmm.
Hank Scorpio: That's on third. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot... Matter of fact, they're all in the same complex; it's the hammock complex on third.
Homer: Oh, the hammock district!
Hank Scorpio: That's right.


After shopping for shoes (unsuccessfully, unfortunately) and grabbing a coffee, we started the long march home. It was just after four in the afternoon, which sadly now means darkness has fallen, and we were walking up Bow Street when I looked up.

There, lit in a beautiful set of lights, was the Royal Opera House. All pretty and white and Greek revival with its columns. Just seeing it suddenly snapped me out of the detail induced fog surrounding shoe styles and threw me up to the 50,000 foot level.

“I live IN LONDON,” I suddenly thought to myself, and smiled.

I, like most of us, I think, spend a lot of time walking around absorbed in my own thoughts. Work deadlines, emails that need to be sent, tomorrow’s Outlook calendar, the shopping list and tonight’s TV schedule are most likely to be found bouncing around in there. Sometimes all it takes to break the spell is to look up and see something you weren’t expecting. Sometimes, like last Saturday, it occurs as a happenstance.

On Friday of this week, I will have been in the UK for a year and a half. 18 months abroad, and London will surpass Ottawa in the “places I have lived the longest” list - now fourth behind Burlington, Ontario, Canada; Toronto, Ontario, Canada and - strangely, perhaps - London, Ontario, Canada, where I went to university. As I approach that anniversary, I like to remind myself of that fact, and force myself to look up.

On Tuesday, after a day down at my office in Surrey, I came back on the train. We pulled into a crowded and noisy Waterloo Station, where it took a good five minutes to shuffle along with the crowd off the platform and through the ticket barriers. Work was rattling around in my head, so I decided to get outside for some fresh air and a reminder of where I am.


I started my hour long walk home from Waterloo by crossing the Waterloo Bridge, my iPod on shuffle in my ears. About halfway across, the last song ended and the iPod choose its next record. The Theme from Dr. No, aka the James Bond Theme came on. I smiled to myself. Super spies in London, and here I was crossing the Waterloo Bridge, where one of the most James-Bond-like things to ever happen in real life took place, when in 1978, Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was stabbed by a passerby with a poisoned umbrella while walking across Waterloo Bridge.

Just then, an Aston Martin DBS slunk by across the bridge, the car that James Bond himself drove in Casino Royale and Quatum of Solace.


Walking across Waterloo Bridge, the Parliament buildings and the London Eye in the background, with the James Bond Theme playing in my ears and perhaps even Mr. Bond himself driving by. Yup, I’m living IN LONDON alright.

Posted by GregW 03:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged living_abroad migration_experiences migration_philosophy Comments (0)

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