Have you been following The Honest Expat series?
From conversations I’ve had with friends it’s proving to be a hit and is a series that many people are reading with interest…
I suppose it’s not surprising that emigration is a question on the minds of many, given the current state of affairs in SA!
In this series I’ve asked South African expats scattered across the globe to share their stories and to tell us what it’s REALLY like?? I made it clear that I wanted to know the whole truth and nothing but the truth! The good, the bad and the ugly.
Today I’m sharing the story of Renee, who we left South Africa 30 years ago, in 1987, when she was 29 years young with her husband, Jon and their 2 children aged 8 and 5.
Where are you originally from?
Originally from Bergvliet in Cape Town.
Where did you emigrate to?
What was the catalyst/s for your emigration decision?
My husband, Jon, was offered a job in London.
How long had you thought through the emigration process?
About 1 month
How easy/ complicated was the application process to emigrate and how long did it take? Did it require certain qualifications/ documentation/ finances etc?
It was very easy as the company did most of the paperwork and applied for a visa for Jon to work in the UK. It took about 5 months.
What was your first year like after emigrating?
Very exciting. A bit scary. But we embraced the adventure as a family and just enjoyed our opportunity to experience another culture. We missed family and friends. At that time all the communication we had was a monthly typed letter to our family in SA and the odd (very expensive) phone call.
What have you loved about your new home – for you and your children?
The safety and opportunities for our children. The open mindedness of people and the social ethos of this country. My children have been taught from the early years of school to always care and look out for other less fortunate and able than themselves.
What have you found hard about your new home – for you and your children?
Missing family and dear friends. Like granny and grandpa at the first concert at school. Baby sitting in the early years with no long term friends or family to leave our children with was quite difficult.
What have you NOT missed about South Africa – for you and your children?
Racism. Whether white or black. It’s equally evil. We returned to South Africa in 1995. We were so excited about the New SA and wanted to be part of the rebuilding of this wonderful country, but after a year we discovered it was as racist as it was before just with another colour in power. So we left again to return to the UK. We haven’t missed the crime, at the time we moved the brutal violence that exists today wasn’t as prevalent, it was mainly theft and the odd violent death. We had never heard of hi-jacking back then.
What have you missed about South Africa – for you and your children?
I miss the open spaces and the spontaneous popping in of friends and family. The social scene here is much more formal and people use their diaries all the time.
Knowing what you know now – would you emigrate again? To the same place or to a different place?
Absolutely. I love living in England and so do my children. The press here are brave and investigative and, generally, don’t allow injustice and corruption to flourish. As a family unit we have enjoyed a wonderfully crime-free, wildly travelled and wholesome life.
If you could, would you return to South Africa? What would make you consider returning to South Africa?
We would, but only if our children decided to move back to South Africa.
What makes it hard to return to South Africa – for you and your children?
We have a created and made a good life here. We have made wonderful friends. I love the peace of daily life. Being able to hop on a train at 11pm at night after being to the theatre and feeling safe is, sadly, worth more than money or SA can ever offer.
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?
I would say the most important factor, certainly for us, was a good job. Employment and financial security is not crucial, but it is very important to facilitate a happy move. Property in England is very expensive as space in the cities is at a premium. Having a friend or family member to fall back on for support is also good. We were very fortunate to make some very good friends fairly soon. The one unwelcome surprise was the size of the house that we could afford. It was adequate, but very small by South African standards and we thought it cost a fortune!
Thanks for sharing your story Renee! It sounds like it was the right move for you and your family.
If you are an South African expat (or a returning expat) and you’d like to share your experience of expat life and emigrating to foreign shoes (wherever they are in the world) please do get in touch with me! I’m keen to feature people who’ve made the move to Canada, Australia, Scotland, Ireland, The Middle East, Europe, Asia and elsewhere in Africa. Mail me at email@example.com
If you enjoyed this interview with a South African expat be sure to read the other interviews with South African expats in The Honest Expat series.
If you are (or have been) a South African expat and are prepared to share your story please drop me an email. I’d love to hear from you! firstname.lastname@example.org
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