Last week I started a brand new interview series called The Honest Expat, in which I ask those South Africans who’ve taken the leap to leave the country for their honest input……
Today I’m continuing the series with an interview with Nina, who lived in London for many years, and then returned to South Africa 15 years later! She’s seen both sides of the story and so I feel is really worthwhile chatting to her too, for another perspective on this loaded topic!
Where are you originally from?
Where did you emigrate to?
When did you emigrate (year)?
What was the catalyst/s for your emigration decision?
Travel and experiencing the world/different cultures
How long had you thought through the emigration process?
About a year – did it about 6 months after finishing Varsity
How easy/ complicated was the application process to emigrate and how long did it take? Did it require certain qualifications/ documentation/ finances etc?
I was very fortunate in that I had a British passport. I was also alone – no dependents. I literally arrived with 22kg in a bag.
What was your first year like after emigrating?
Exciting, tough, lonely, overwhelming
What did you enjoy about your new home?
I loved being able to travel easily around the world on pounds, the freedom of movement on public transport, work opportunities (although this did change while I was there and is far more limited now), the friendships I made (friends become your family), food is well priced (really noticed when we went back on holiday this year), good quality clothing, awesome shops, excellent online shopping, fast internet, generally good customer care.
What did you find hard about your new home?
The nanny state, sometimes my life felt like I was wading through treacle, so many rules and health and safety, housing is expensive, poor service, not an easy outdoors lifestyle for children, schooling starts so early (4 years old), became very expensive to visit SA (especially once we had my daughter), we really missed family, everything costs money (there is not a lot to do that is free, other than the parks), eating out is costly, the many SA expats bad mouthing SA, the non-interaction by people mainly in London (eg. no smiling on the tube, talking to the next person in the queue)
What did you NOT miss about South Africa?
The frustration of living in a combo of 1st and 3rd world country with the challenges it brings.
What did you miss about South Africa?
The entrepreneurial spirit, easy to own your own business, outdoor play and experiences (beach, mountain etc), family, friendly smiling faces.
Knowing what you know now – would you emigrate again? To the same place or to a different place?
Yes. It was an amazing experience and offered me amazing opportunities for growth and to change as a person. I loved the travel and really miss doing it as much now.
What made you consider returning to South Africa?
We returned 6 years ago. It was hard in the beginning, pretty much like emigrating again after 15 years abroad. We came back because of our daughter (education and outdoors), family (wanting her to have family close by), the weather and lifestyle, there is so much positive happening on the ground – it just isn’t reported.
What made it hard to return to South Africa – for you and your children?
Bad news in the media, crime, now government (we came back while Mandela was still alive).
What were the unexpected (good and bad) aspects of emigrating that you’d wished you’d known about before going. Do you have any advice for those contemplating making this huge move for their families?
The depths of the friendships I would make and how much I would miss them when I left. I have had a couple of friends affected by the attitude change that came with Brexit – I always felt welcome, but not everyone has.
Emigrating isn’t easy, but it is all about the attitude you do it with. The grass is never greener on the other side, you just need to work out what you can and can’t live with and make your choice accordingly. I would never judge a person on the choice they make – the decision is theirs for their own personal reasons. It is such a personal decision. What I should say is that your attitude, whatever it is, follows you. So negative people here will be the same overseas and positive people will be positive. I saw both when I travelled and lived overseas 🙂
For me the pull of my family and lifestyle in SA were stronger than the hook of staying for the awesome shopping and travel.
Having just been over to the UK again (during the best 2 weeks of weather that I think I ever experienced in the UK) and looking at it from a “maybe we could move back perspective”… I remembered exactly what it was like to live there and knew that for us we had made the right decision to return to SA for now.
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