30 Thoughts on the first 6 months

12 03 2012

One of the more interesting weekly articles I read is Elliotte Friedman’s 30 thoughts. Although his writing is exclusively about ice hockey my attempt at replicating it is going to be about my first 6 months in the U.K.

It seems only yesterday that I was sitting around the Cheshire Cheese with a few friends and wondering if moving to England was the right idea. It’s amazing how fast time can really go. I have had a lot of different experiences since moving here; some positive, some negative, but overall it has been life changing. I have grown up a lot since leaving the comforts of home and feel as though I am finally ready to make my own way. Here are just a few things I have learned or observed in the first 6 months.

1. London is a tough place to learn to teach: From the overwhelmingly poor behaviour of the students to the obvious widespread poverty throughout the city, the teaching here is very challenging. Having not taught anything but New Zealand secondary school, coming here is baptism by fire.

2. I definitely prefer teaching to driving a bin truck: Even though there are some tough days it has become clear to me that teaching is what I am meant to do. I find it much more stimulating and rewarding than previous jobs and I love the fact that no two days are the same.

3. Supply Teaching is run like a business: The “agency system” that is used over here leads to supply teaching being much more competitive than anywhere else I have seen. A teacher has to learn how to juggle agencies properly and has to look out for themselves when finding work.

4. London is extremely multi-cultural: While I expected London to be moderately multi-cultural I certainly did not expect it to the level it is. I thought Vancouver was a multi-cultural place, and it is, but not even comparable to London.

5As a history teacher I am in my element in this city: With all of the free museums, the incredible architecture and the numerous books written about London it is never tough to find something to do. On every street there is something unique about this city and the novelty of living here never seems to die down.

6. If I had moved here 3 years ago this city would have eaten me alive: Had I moved here immediately after teachers college in New Zealand I would have been back in Vancouver after 6 months. You have to be quite strong mentally to understand the business of supply teaching and to cope with the struggles of working day to day. Even now there have been some stressful times for me.

7. Having family over here has been great: With a cousin in London and more family up north I had a sense of home when I moved over here. I can’t stress how important it has been for me to be able to visit with family during times I might be stressed out or missing home.

8. English banks are the most frustrating organizations I have ever come across: I could go on a long rant about the ridiculousness of the banks here. I might write a blog about this one day, but the amount of hoops I had to jump through to set up an account in the UK was simply incredible

9. Riding the London Underground gets very old very fast: I remember being so excited to hop on the tube from Heathrow to Hammersmith on that initial Friday afternoon in September. Now I avoid the tube at all costs, bus, bike, over ground trains…all vastly superior options.

10. The British postal system is much better than its Canadian counterpart: The efficiency of royal mail is very impressive. Letters are delivered rapidly and to the correct destination. It is one of the more reliable organizations in Britain.

11. My living situation couldn’t be better: The London borough of Islington is a beautiful part of the city and living with two North Americans who are laid back and up for exploring the city has been the perfect living arrangement.

12. Parts of London are stunningly beautiful: While London doesn’t have the mountain views or the ocean on its doorstep there are areas of the city that particularly stand out. Whether its visiting one of the many parks or taking a walk up Primrose Hill the views are often spectacular and despite it being a big city it is possible to quietly sit and read a book in a park.

13. Football in England might actually be bigger than Hockey in Canada or Rugby in New Zealand: Perhaps the most controversial statement in this blog, the British take their football very seriously. It may just seem bigger because of the larger population but the football rivalries are heated and the matches are filled with a great atmosphere.

14. Despite the reputation the British weather isn’t bad at all: I may be eating my words on this statement in my 1 year post, but since I have been here the weather has been nothing short of excellent. It’s hard to complain about a 30 degree day in October and 17 degrees in March.

15. Living in a hostel for 2 months was crazy: I didn’t realize how brutal it was at the time, but looking back on my first two months here I have no clue how I survived that long in a hostel. Perhaps I was just buzzing from moving across the world, but that is not something I want to do again.

16. I find it rather amusing when an English national sports team loses: England is very patriotic when it comes to the national teams playing sports, but when that same national team loses all hell breaks loose. The newspapers launch inquiries into what went wrong; the players are booed mercilessly for weeks to come and the moral of the entire country drops. It is rather humorous to watch from an outsider’s perspective.

17. People work very hard here: The work ethic of those in London is incredible. 10 hours is generally considered an average day with an hour commute attached to either side of that. As a supply teacher I’m not working those hours yet, but I’m certain I will be once I move ahead in my career.

18.  Everyone on Vancouver’s west side seems to know everyone else: I have met a lot of Canadians in London and a significant number from Vancouver’s west side. It is amazing to have the “west side talk” with these fellow transplants and realize that you have multiple friends (or in one case multiple family friends) in common.

19. The British have a sense of humour like none other: The sarcastic wit of the British is something to behold. The kids in particular are surprisingly quick-witted and always have a comment or two. When you learn that it’s not personal, it’s just a cultural thing it becomes quite amusing.

20. Outside of sports British television is awful: While the quick wit of the streets and the off the cuff remarks of a typical Briton are entertaining, the TV shows leave a lot to be desired. There are occasional good ones (Ricky Gervais comes to mind) but as a whole there is a lot of rubbish on the telly.

21. The law “Jaywalking” does not exist in this city: In a city where everyone is constantly in a hurry crossing the streets is nothing short of a free for all. The traffic lights are merely a suggestion as to when you should cross. No matter where you go you will see businessmen darting between traffic desperate to catch the tube.

22. There may be more New Zealanders in London than in New Zealand: This became particularly prevalent when the kiwis won the rugby world cup in October. The streets were littered with rugby enthusiasts from the land of the long white cloud celebrating.

23. The pub culture over here is vastly superior to either Vancouver or New Zealand: While in Canada or New Zealand going to a night club is the popular thing, in the UK you go to the pub. Much more my style and a far more relaxed atmosphere than I have ever experienced.

24. Poverty is a huge problem in London: With my job this was something I noticed immediately, but also something that took me by surprise. I have discussed poverty at length before but I cannot get over the amount of estate housing there is in London.

25. Bath is one of the more beautiful places in the world: I didn’t know what to expect on that November trip to see Ron in Bath but I was blown away by the stunning Georgian architecture and the beautiful views of the British countryside.

26. London and England are two very different places: It is amazing how much the dynamic of the country changes as soon as you leave London. The pace of life is a lot slower and the crowds are not as abundant. Anytime I leave London it always takes a day or two to readjust to the fast pace of the city.

27. Meeting a person born and raised in London is surprisingly difficult: This does not include the students I teach of course, but meeting an adult that is born and raised in London is not as easy as it sounds. London is a very temporary city and filled with many people doing the exact same thing as me.

28. Ryan Air is as bad as its reputation, but allows for cheap holidays: Flying Ryan Air is an experience in itself; the stewards closely resemble the hot dog and beer vendors you see at sporting events as they parade up and down the aisle trying to sell you everything from head cushions to alcohol.

29. European vacations are as great as they sound: Europe is amazingly accessible via airplane, Eurostar and even ship. There are always great deals for weekend getaways and as I build up my finances a little bit I plan to start taking advantage of this a bit more. Tentatively I am looking at Paris in June and Prague in August.

30. The best is yet to come:  With the weather improving and family on their way over to visit I have high expectations for the next six months. I will hopefully be increasing the traveling as well as enjoying London as the Olympics approach. With the stress of finding work and accommodation out of the way for the short term I will be able to relax a lot more and really begin to settle into my new home.



11 03 2012

For February half term I finally decided to make my first European excursion since arriving in the UK. I was fortunate enough to be invited on a ski trip to Slovakia with Ron, and three of his friends, Lydia, Sarah and Karel.

I have to say I had never envisioned my first side trip being to Slovakia but it was a wonderful experience and I thoroughly enjoyed being back on skis!

The trip got off to a bit of a rocky start as our Ryan Air flight from Stansted was at 6:25am Saturday morning.  Having done my research and finding out I could take the 45 minute Stansted Express leaving at 4 in the morning, I trudged out of my flat around 3am and headed for Liverpool Street. I boarded the train with time to spare and was well on my way to an easy connection. Then disaster struck! An announcement was made that the Stansted tunnel was malfunctioning and we would have to stop at Bishops Stortford, approximately 15 miles short of my required destination.

As time ticked away and the queue of 200 people waited agonisingly for taxis to arrive I began to think of alternate plans for my week off. Finally, after a 25 minute wait, a coach arrived for us and I was able to get to the airport, talk my way ahead of the ever growing line up, and rush through security. I made the plane, but only just. Crisis averted.

After an uneventful flight we arrived in chilly Bratislava ( -17 as we landed),  where we were able to pick up a rental car and make our way to Devin Castle just on the Slovakian border.  This was only a very quick stop but well worth it as the hilltop provided a stunning view of the Danube and the Austrian countryside.  We then hopped back into the car and set off on the 3 hour drive to Liptovsky Mikulas, one of the ski resorts on the Low Tatras.

Upon arriving in Liptov, exhausted and starving, we were greeted by Josef, a 70 something Slovakian man with very limited English. Josef was an interesting fellow to say the least, walking with a noticeable limp, an old war injury, he showed us to our bungalovy and we settled in.

The next day we headed up to the mountain, sorted out our rental equipment and hit the slopes on just a gorgeous day. I had not been on skis for 15 years and had been a bit hesitant on going on this trip at all for the fear of spending all my time on the bunny hill, but I managed to think back to my Grade 7 Whistler ski trip with Mr. Brown`s class and made my way down that first hill. As the week progressed my skiing improved dramatically and I was able to get down every hill, albeit not quite as fast as the Olympians.

The first 2 days of skiing were beautiful, but extremely cold. While it was a great time to take pictures by the end of the second day the mountains were very icy and we were in desperate need of snow. Our prayers were answered in a big way as on Tuesday morning the skies opened up and didn`t stop until after we left on Saturday! The drastic change from day 2 to day 3 on the slopes allowed me to gain a bit more confidence as falling in the powder didn`t hurt nearly as much!

Being that I was on a holiday with 2 other Canadians one night we decided to take advantage of the fact we were in a country where ice hockey is a popular sport once again. We spent about an hour driving from Liptov to the city of Martin, where we watched a Slovakian Hockey League game between Martin and Dulka Trencin.  While the level of hockey reminded me a lot of the UBC Thunderbirds it was the atmosphere of the crowd that I particularly enjoyed. Singing all game and whistling instead of booing, it was much more akin to a European football crowd than an Ice Hockey crowd. It, like everything else in Slovakia, was very affordable and well worth seeing.

Another cultural experience was dining out in Slovakia. There was no kitchen in our bungalovy so eating out became a must. This experience was made much easier by the fact Karel is from Slovenian background and was able to speak enough Slovakian for us to get by. It certainly made ordering much easier.  One of the popular choices  for lunch was Klobasa (sausage) and hronolky (French fries). When I first ordered this I wasn`t sure if I was getting French fries or a French rugby player but eventually I learned to not rely on Karel too much and try to order for myself.

It was certainly a very memorable week in Slovakia and I am really looking forward to February half term next year when I will hopefully get another opportunity to hit the slopes! Attached are a few pictures from the trip, I hope you enjoy them!

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