A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about migration experiences

Jubilee #2: Linen

The second celebration during the first weekend of June.

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While this weekend in London is focused on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, another celebration is also being observed, though perhaps by fewer people. In fact, as far as I know, I am the only one marking the occasion.

Four years ago, on the early morning of the June 4th, 2008, I landed at Heathrow airport, and soon thereafter was admitted as a resident of the United Kingdom. Thus, today, June 4th 2012, is my Linen Jubilee. I am thinking of going out to the local Debenham’s and buying myself some new sheets to celebrate.

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Recently I was talking to someone at work who is also an emigre from another land. “How long have you been here?” she asked.

“Almost four years,” I replied.

“Oh, so that means you are here for good,” she said.

How had she determined that, I wondered. “Why would you say that?” I queried.

“Most people say if you have stayed in a place for four years, you’re bound to stay and not go back,” she replied.

I will admit that I have no plans to go back to Canada. When I first moved here to the United Kingdom, I always planned on staying for six years. Six years would give me enough time to run through my visa, one year of Indefinite Leave to Remain and then allow me to apply for citizenship.

Beyond that, though, I really had thought I would take advantage of my new status in the EU and probably pull up stakes and resettle somewhere in Europe. Perhaps Paris, which originally called me to move to Europe in the first place, or somewhere in Spain to brush up on my Spanish. Maybe I would move to Eastern Europe, settling into one of the fast growing Eastern European economies in their beautiful capital cities.

At the time I was filled with a wanderlust, and I really saw the move to Europe as a chance to fulfil that lust for travel in a different way.

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Over the last four years, though, my thoughts have changed. Certainly the ongoing drama in the Eurozone is partially responsible for questioning if I really want to travel into the EU (if there is even one left in another two years). However, there is more than that. Settling abroad as an immigrant has quenched my thirst for travel. I no longer get the itchy feet I used to if I am at home for an extended period. In fact, now when I travel, though I still enjoy it, I am also looking forward to getting home.

Now I feel that getting a British passport is not just a gateway to further adventure somewhere else, but instead I see it as cementing my position here in the UK. It is about giving me the paperwork to match with my feelings - that London is now my home.

Sometimes I am surprised how settled and comfortable I feel in London, because it certainly hasn’t been an easy four years.

I’ve struggled with work, at first to find any job, and since finding employment, to find the right job. I’ve suffered from a lack of UK experience, both real and imagined on the part of my employers, and am only now getting back to a level I feel is similar to what I left behind in Toronto. I am certainly not financially better off since leaving Canada, with my salary basically staying flat over the past four years in a city which is more expensive than my previous home town of Toronto.

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I left behind a set of friends in Canada, and came to the UK with no friends to call on. Trying to make friends in your late-30s and early-40s hasn’t been quick or easy, and there was more than a few times early on when I suffered from loneliness. Luckily now I have a growing group of friends to call on, and have something that could be called a social life now. But I still don’t have the number or diversity of friends here in the UK that I had back in Canada.

Hardest recently has been the fact that you are far away from family and friends. I must admit when I left Canada, I think I subconsciously thought that life would just stay still in Canada. That things wouldn’t change. But they do change. People get married, people get divorced. Children are born, and then grow into adults. People grow old, people get sick, and people die.

Being in London is being far away from it all. I am not there to give the level of support I’d want to give to those who need it, nor can I get that level of support from those back in Canada. Email and international calling provides some value, and my family has been excellent about keeping in touch, but electronic communications can’t replace seeing someone, feeling their touch or having a good hug.

Recently my father had surgery. Luckily I was able to take a week off work and fly back to Canada to be there for the surgery, but in the run up to the decision to have the surgery, and now I am back in London and he is recovering, I feel the distance strongly. Often, I wish I could be there in Canada with him - both to offer support to him and the rest of my family, but also so I was closer to what was happening, and to draw some comfort with being involved and fully informed of what is occurring. I find myself suffering from the stress of feeling impotent - of not being a part of what is happening back home.

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Despite these struggles - excluding a few times when I thought that perhaps I would be better off packing up and heading back to Canada - I find myself bonding more and more with London. In the past when I lived in Toronto, when I suffered from hardships, I found myself turning to travel as the escape. Getting on a plane and heading somewhere new, I would find my worries floating away as soon as the cabin crew shut the main cabin door.

Now, though, when something in London is getting me down, I feel myself retreating not to another place, but to something different within London, be it a nice walk along the Thames, or a wander through the historic streets of Westminster, or a night out in the vibrant night life of this city.

Whether it is London itself, or just the experience of living abroad that is providing this comfort, I don’t know. Either way, it makes me feel good to be here.

So tonight I will raise a glass to my Linen Jubilee, and to London. To the last four years, and to many more ahead of me.

Long live the immigrant in me, and long live London.

Posted by GregW 06:46 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged migration_experiences migration_philosophy existential_migration Comments (0)

Achtung, Europa

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I have been listening to a lot of Achtung Baby era U2 recently. It all started back when U2 played Glastonbury in the summer, and I sat on my sofa (slightly drunk) watching the set on the BBC. No doubt as a way to plug the masses of re-releases in honour of the 20th anniversary of that album, the band played a number of their Achtung Baby songs, much in the same way they played them back during their massive Zoo TV tour. That triggered me to start listening again to Achtung Baby, as well as the related albums I had - including Zoo Europa, an excellent bootleg from their 1993 Zoo TV concert in Dublin.

Over the past few weeks, U2 has released a number of different versions and cover versions of the songs of Achtung Baby. Today, I sat around listening to the "Kindergarten" versions of all the songs on the album, plus a version of covers of the songs on the album called "(Ǎhk-to͝ong Bay-bi) Covered."

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Image from Wikipedia

Recently, though, I have turned off the music and on the TV so I can watch the coverage of the austerity measure debate in Italy. This is expected to trigger the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi, Italian Prime Minister, who has held the office for 9 years over three separate periods.

Berlusconi's leaving office is just the latest in the ongoing financial crisis that is gripping the Eurozone, the larger EU and the world as a whole. The European Union and Eurozone is attempting to resolve these issues and save the Euro and the currency union, but more and more commentaries are saying that at least some of the Eurozone members will have to leave the currency union. Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, has said any members leaving could lead to the complete disintegration of the European Union as a whole. Germany, as the strongest economy in the Eurozone, is being pressed to put in trillions of Euros to save the entire project. Germany, however, is balking at pouring too much money into saving the Mediterranean economies.

Uncertainty is about the only certainty at this point, but some change in the EU and the Eurozone seems likely. No one would be surprised to see some significant changes in the Eurozone or EU borders over the next year, and a shrinking of the Eurozone seems highly possible.

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It is a very different picture that I had when I first got here. Just three years ago, despite the economic troubles which were gripping the banks at the time, I was quite excited about the continuing integration in Europe. In a blog entry at the time, I wrote:

I will admit that one of the reasons I moved out of Canada was to be part of something larger. I wanted to be part of the international community, be part of something that was happening. Europe seemed to be that place.

As I left North America, Canada and the USA seem to be closing themselves off, fortifying themselves against the outside world and even dividing themselves into smaller bits internally - red vs. blue states, north vs. south, Quebec vs. the rest of Canada, east vs. west, Northern Ontario vs. Southern Ontario.

Europe is coming together. The European Union is growing, the coming together of nations to form a larger community, an international meeting place. Despite setback with the recent Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty to give the EU more powers, proponents of the EU want to continue to build the union, stronger and larger.

Ummm... Then again, perhaps not.

Three years, and all change. Now it appears Europe is slowly rending itself apart, and while it doesn't appear that things have changed in the USA, Canada's economy is strong and it, among other emerging economies like China, India and Brazil, were asked if they would lend additional support to the Eurozone. Canada, along with the others, offered "support," but no clear new money.

Achtung Baby was recorded (in part) in October 1990 in Berlin. The band had gone to Berlin to find some sort of inspiration on the eve of German reunification. The European Economic Community morphed into the European Union just a few years later, and in 1999 the Euro entered the financial markets.

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I remember going to buy Achtung Baby in 1991. At the time I was in university, and had remembered watching the European wall fall, the reunification ceremonies for Germany on TV and the ongoing "end of history" events as Europe - formerly a continent torn in two by political divisions - was coming together. Achtung Baby formed the soundtrack of my watching the ongoing European integration from afar, as they signed the Maastricht Treaty and became a more integrated union.

Now, 20 years later, its re-release is forming the soundtrack of my watching Europe potentially fall apart, this time from much closer than my university in Canada. I watch now not just as someone interested in world politics, but someone whose job depends in part on the ability for companies within Europe to buy my services.

It is strange and beautiful music for strange, strange times.

Posted by GregW 08:56 Archived in England Tagged migration_experiences Comments (0)

Playing Tour Guide, and Getting A Set of New Eyes

How showing around visitors lets me see more of my city, and even see the familiar bits with new eyes

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I have two sisters, and they recently came to visit me in London, spending 8 days in England. They spent a few days staying at my flat, before moving to a hotel on the Southbank for a more central experience of London.

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The great thing about having visitors is that I wind up doing things I haven't yet had a chance to do. For me, this was an opportunity to final get up on the London Eye, the massive wheel across from the Houses of Parliament.

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Visitors also provide a chance to see and do thing I wouldn't normally do myself, even with my local friends. I went out to see David Tennant in Much Ado About Nothing, toured the Victoria and Albert Museum and even had afternoon tea at Kensington Palace.

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More importantly, though, it reminds me that my life in London isn't just life, it is an experience. Much as I talked about in a previous blog, sometimes it is easy to get yourself into a routine. Work has been very busy lately, and many days I am tired and just want to get home and relax.

Having visitors, especially new ones to the city, is a great way to see things that you take for granted every day in a new light. One day, we were sitting in my front room, and my sister was staring out the window. "My God," she said. "Look at that view. What an amazing view!"

I looked out the window, and saw the set of buildings which used to be a school and is now high-end flats and offices spaces for creative industries, backed by a grey, cloudy sky.

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"Umm, it's not exactly overlooking St. Paul's Cathedral," I said.

"No, but it is so much different than what you would see at home," my sister said.

I am not sure if the view of my window is really amazing, but it is different than the view I had out of my apartment in Toronto, and I do live on a street of Victorian row houses which you don't get back in North America. So, I looked out the view again, through the eyes of someone who had never been here, and realised it is pretty special, because it is so different than what they might see elsewhere. It's just my everyday view, and the kind of view that people might have all over London, but it is a view of London.

It was a great reminder that I shouldn't take my local commute, or the view out my window for granted. It may be every day to me at this point in my life, but it certainly isn't every day of my life so far. It is my a special experience living abroad, and I can't forgot that.

Now, when I look out my window, thanks to seeing it through my sister's eyes, I can remind myself that it is the view of an experience I am living, and that is pretty special.

Posted by GregW 06:56 Archived in England Tagged migration_experiences Comments (0)

New Year's Day

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind ?

sunny 25 °C

January 1st is such an arbitrary date for starting the new year. Granted, it is the first day of the month named after Janus, the Roman God who had two faces so could look to both the past and the future at the same time, however there are a number of more significant days that could be the first day of the new year. Either of the equinoxes or the solstices, September 1st - traditionally around the start of school for children, or even sometime in April when the tax year starts. Heck, even personal new years’ on your birthday would make some sense, but January 1st? Random day, it seems.

Today, as I walked home along Elspeth Road after dinner back from a Chinese noodle house, I decided that is my personal New Year’s Day.

I didn’t just decide on today randomly. For me personally, today is not without any precedent for the switch of a new year. It was three years ago today that I landed at Heathrow Airport and entered London as a new immigrant. Therefore, it is the anniversary of a new period of my life.

Not only that, but I have recently moved house, and now live in a new place. So not only the anniversary of my new life, but a new place and a house warming to celebrate.

So I took a quick detour to the local wine shop, and picked myself up some bubbly to celebrate.

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So Happy New Year, all, and I shall take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

Posted by GregW 14:44 Archived in England Tagged migration_experiences Comments (0)

Why did you move HERE?!?

Common question by UK residents dreaming of a better life in the colonies...

sunny 25 °C

I had a conversation recently. It's become common enough that as soon as it starts, I know how it will end.

I was speaking with a new acquaintance, a British woman. She asked, "What made you move to England?"

As this was a work situation, I answered with my typical answer for work folk. "I had been working in North America for 15 years, and felt like I could use some international experience. The US market is so big, you tend to focus solely on servicing that if you are in North America. Over here in Europe, because there are many countries with relatively similar sized economies, you get a lot more experience working with cross-border issues and the like. It's a really different way of working."

She leaned back and nodded, but there was a hesitation in her movements. I could tell that I hadn't answered the question she wanted to ask.

I leaned forward. "What you meant by your question," I said, "was why would I move to England, when so many English people want to get out and move to Canada?"

She smiled. "Yes, exactly!"

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I have had this conversation often. I have met many people here in London and around the UK who really want to be some place else. Former British colonies are popular destinations. I was on the tube reading the few paper earlier this week, and there was an article which named Canada as top destination for former British residents, with New Zealand, Australia and South Africa close behind. Lots of English people here have romantic images of living in the large open spaces and less cramped countries away from smoggy London.

Of course, as I spoke of in a previous blog entry on my moving to London, anyone packing up sticks and moving abroad probably has unrealistic expectations of the place they are moving to. London is big and crowded and smoggy, but so to was Toronto. And while Canada has lots of wide open spaces where you can get land cheap, you could do the same in the UK, if you wanted to. You'd suffer the same fate in both places, though - being far away from anything and anyone.

I have even gotten some people talking about how much nicer it would be to live in a country that doesn't have such nasty politics that leans so far right. While Americans often hold up Canada as a socialist (paradise / hell - depending on what side of the debate you are on), it is in my opinion further to the right than most European countries, including the UK. It is only in comparison to the USA that Canada is socialist. Compared to the UK, I think Canadian politics is probably shifted right.

No mind. Sometimes you just have to move, as I did. And if anyone asks, I always tell them that I love Canada, and I didn't move to get away from Canada, but rather to more towards something - a life abroad. So any Brits out there thinking about moving - go for it.

After all, walking around London and hearing the number of Canadian, Australian, Kiwi and South African accents, it seems only fair that you send some folks back our way.

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Posted by GregW 00:47 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged migration_experiences migration_philosophy Comments (0)

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