I recently had dinner with my friend Stef, who I hadn’t seen in years but had stayed connected with through the wonders of technology. Thank you, Facebook. Stef is one of the most adventurous people I know. (Who else would semi-randomly move to Ghana??) Her most recent adventure has been living in London the past two years.
Stef is also a blogger*, so while we were having a proper catch up over a delicious Asian fusion dinner at Wild Rice (on the Quay in my stomping grounds of New Westminster – check it out. Tasty stuff.), I asked her if she would do a guest post about her adventures as an ex-pat in London. When I read what she sent, it made me think of this quote and what nice segue it would be:
We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.
From the time I was born I was always a little restless – my curiosity can only be satiated for a short while before I’m onto the next musing or adventure. Although this constant need for change and stimulation has brought on many challenges – not to mention occasional sleepless nights – it’s also brought me more riches than I could ever imagine!
Back in the spring of 2012, I knew it was time to end my current adventure in West Africa (That’s a whole other story!) and my next step was an easy choice. Over the course of my time in Ghana I had spent many extended weekends visiting London, and I had completely fallen in love! A little research, picking the brains of some friends and a thorough visa process, I made a quick whirlwind trip home to Vancouver to pack and give my love before becoming a UK resident.
And what a crazy couple of years it has been! I could spend hours talking about my love for this city without exaggerating one iota. It’s the epicentre for all things art, which means weekends are full of shows, galleries, exhibits or strolls through neighbourhoods laden with incredible street art. London is a foodie’s dream, and I credit this on its incredible tapestry of culture. Coming from a diversified city like Vancouver, I thought I understood multiculturalism – but the “melting pot” I was used to at home is nothing like the clearly identifiable nationalities you see in London. You know that your local eats – be it Peruvian to Lebanese – are as authentic as can be.
Yes, this is one of the world’s biggest cities and is full of hype and bustling in the city centre, but there’s no place that feels cozier to me than my little Chelsea neighbourhood where my coffee shop knows exactly what I caffeinate with, and I can cycle through the market on a Saturday to get fresh produce. With so many ex-pats living in one spot, London has been the most welcoming and easiest place to make friends with everyone in the same boat.
Moving to a new city always comes with its challenges, and by far, London posed the most for me. I’ve never been a person to worry about buying a coffee every morning or what wine I was ordering in a restaurant, but let me tell you, job hunting for eight months while converting Canadian dollars to British pounds will suck the fun out of any purchase! My £1,200 rent didn’t seem so “reasonable” when it syphoned more than $2000 out of my Canadian account each month. Also, little surprises like what’s referred to as “counsel tax” in the UK – aka: a neighbourhood specific tax paid by the residents, NOT the home owners, for park upkeep, garbage pick-up and other common amenities. Surprise! You owe another £170 this month – oh, wait, that’s $300. Needless to say, when I finally landed my permanent job I celebrated hard… with really cheap wine.
I have spent the last two years of my life outside of my comfort zone in many different ways, and am definitely not the same girl who arrived to Heathrow in 2012. I’ve made more mistakes than I can count. I’ve nearly fallen flat on my face a time or two, and undoubtedly would have had it not been for my incredible family and friends! But, all in all, I have learned more about my own strengths and limitations, and who I am and what I want out of this life in a way I never thought possible.
If you were to ask me if I would do it all again, the answer is yes. A million times, yes. Would I do things differently? Absolutely. But this is how I know these years have been pivotal for me – if I were to do everything the same way I did, then what would I learn? Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is never, well, comfortable! But it’s truly where self-discovery comes from, and for me the most important lesson was appreciating all of the little things around me that are so easily taken for granted.