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.
5. As 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.