When someone makes the decision for you: the inevitable sadness of going home.

The sadness of going home

Before my Mum cracks open the champagne I have to be super clear that I am not moving back to New Zealand any time soon (well actually my visa is up at the end of the year so who knows what the hell will happen, fingers crossed for staying a lot longer!). No, this post is about those whose decision gets made for them, the moment when the visa runs out. Moving to London is part of the cultural identity for Kiwis, but for all that we mythologize the move over we seem to gloss over the eventually moving back home part. After all, surely moving back to the comfort zone is far less of a scary step?

The funny thing about London is that those who love it instantly and unconditionally are in the minority. Most expats arrive at that opinion that while London is pretty damn awesome, its also hard, lonely, expensive and literally a world away from people that you love. Over time things become a lot easier (or you just become more at ease with your choices) but those first few months can be a real struggle. I mean, exciting as hell and one of the bravest steps you have ever taken, but still a struggle.

After the first couple of tricky months most people start to feel a little more comfortable. You know what supermarket to go to, remember to always have an umbrella in your handbag and start seeing the shape of Africa in the mould in your room. But things still aren’t exactly peachy with your new friend London. Even while you are on a sunny pub rooftop it just seems that everyone is doing it better, you feel like no matter how hard you try you are failing at London. ‘Everyone’ else is travelling, dream jobs and Tindering every night. I mean, they’re totally not, but that is how it felt to you.

Then something weird happened, London started becoming a little more like home. A few friends, some cool trip and ice-skating in the moat of the Tower of London made all the big scary bits of expat life a little more friendly. You started falling for bits of your new city, it started to become part of you. At this point the lucky few with convenient dead grandmothers get to let their guards down with London. After the two year point you make more friends, put down roots and find out how to transfer at Bank Station; its like a comfortable sigh after holding your breath for 730days. You become that obnoxious Londoner who can’t shut up about it, like a hipster who just got an Instagram-worthy puppy.

Problem is not everyone gets that extra time to become BFF with London, and that just sucks the big one. For the two year visa squad just as you are starting to make your mind up about the big L the decision gets made for you. You get an end date and short of marrying a Scottish bloke or convincing a company to sponsor you, it’s time to book a ticket home.

As millennials & Kiwis we are not used to having people stand in our way, particularly something that is as big of a blockade as Her Majesty’s Government. Being told no is almost more important than your true feelings about London. With deportation looming suddenly this city that was unconvincing, that stole all your money and made you fat seems like the holy grail, London being taken away from you is the only thing you can focus on.

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Some cool kids move to London for a whale of a good time, travel plus booze for them is essentially the entire equation. For the rest of us London is that first bite at real and isolated independence. We move over just at the point where we are trying to figure out careers, love, intentions, which battles to fight and how to fix a fuse box. The two year squad gets ripped out of London in the middle of this ‘growing up’ process.

As well as the pain in the arse of packing and moving, there is also the fear of stepping back into an old life. What if you become the person you were? What if you don’t know who you are yet? What if you have changed so much you don’t fit there anymore? And after seeing how big the world is, what if NZ is bat-shit boring?

If London taught you anything in your two years here it has to be fuck what other people think. Once you have seen a girl vomit into the sleeves of her trench coat on the tube your life choices look pretty sweet indeed (side note: I once saw a man with a parrot on his shoulder on the Metropolitan line, I feel this is a good if a little piratey life choice). The worst thing you can do right now is focus on what you can’t have, namely: London. It is time to focus on the possibilities, this is an incredible chance to change your life for a second time.

Before you moved to London you probably had a million possibilities running round in your head about the things you would see and the person you would become. Why the hell are you not doing the same thing at the moment?

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Chances are pre-London you went to the same places, hung out with the same people and didn’t really do anything that scared you. Be the brave person you are in London just on the other side of the world. Fuck buying a house; live in town and spend all your money on rent like you did in London. Travel as much as you did in Europe but this time see the Southern Lights, the Milky Way and every single set of the Hobbit. Be creative, take chances and stop for fucks sake stop thinking that London is the only place you can find out who you are meant to be.

If you think going home means being stuck in a certain pattern/life you need to use the flight to shove those thoughts in an overhead locker and leave them there. You are far too valuable to waste on normal.

And if New Zealand really sucks, there is always Australia.

 

Brunch spots that I love

17 Comments

  1. January 8, 2016 / 3:05 pm

    I love this piece! I similarly had a visa decide my 2 1/2 year point in Paris and asked myself all the same questions: I was in the middle of growing up and suddenly put back in my hometown questioning what that would take away from my future. It’s so important to face change head on. And so I decided to explore my own backyard and am concluding a five month road trip, while 5 years after my return from Paris. The journey is ours. Best luck to you!

  2. January 8, 2016 / 3:06 pm

    Loved this. Am not a Kiwi, but am sure that a lot of Americans in London on limited visas can relate.

  3. January 8, 2016 / 3:07 pm

    Good luck! You are a shinning Kiwi everywhere. Hope everything goes fascinating with you 🙂
    I will try the same, to become a Londoner. With my two kids…
    Your blog has been a good motivation for me in the time of decision. Thanks!

  4. January 8, 2016 / 5:15 pm

    This is a good article. Summed up all our thoughts and experiences.
    My 8th year in London. Miss Auckland’s good life everyday though.
    Got two kids now, Born Brits but also got their Kiwi passports.

  5. January 8, 2016 / 6:43 pm

    I think I would find this so hard if I was on a visa! It definitely took me a couple years to really settle down here, luckily the passport will let me stay! x

  6. January 8, 2016 / 7:46 pm

    I hated London with all of my being and a huge passion for the first two years we were there. I wanted to go home every waking minute of every day (multiple redundancies, months upon months of unemployment, and a rental scam sucked the joy out of it for me). My partner convinced me to stay “just one more year” and thanks to our Ancestry (and de facto ancestry) visas we did. And that third year made ALL the difference. I bossed London and learnt to love it, I made friends and thoroughly enjoyed myself – all the while knowing we were heading home at the end of that year. That extra year meant so much – and it saddens me that so many Kiwi’s don’t get that luxury of extra time. 2 years is too short, 3 years was juuuust right (and anymore probably would have sent me batshit crazy).

    Being back in New Zealand is wonderful, I love it and I am so thankful to have this beautiful country as home. But i really wouldn’t fully appreciate it if I hadn’t had those awful, tough, character building years in London. Home will always be here, but milk London for all it’s worth while you are there!

  7. January 8, 2016 / 7:59 pm

    Love this. I’m from London but travelling in NZ right now. I understand why Kiwis choose to come to London as it’s a pretty cool city and a base for travel in Europe but seriously, your country fucking rocks!!!

    The grass is always greener, hey?! 🙂

  8. January 8, 2016 / 9:13 pm

    Ahhh you’re joining my club then? Trust me as much as you think it will be this incredible fresh start and you’ll do everything you want, the reality is a bit harder. I don’t regret leaving London but I’m aware that this move (even 6mth later) is still one of the hardest things in my life. I hope you have an awesome family and friends network here when you move back, I imagine that will help a lot!

  9. January 8, 2016 / 9:18 pm

    I agree, two years is not enough, but three would be perfect! I loved London but I am so excited about being back on this side of the world. We have our wedding to look forward to which helps! We will move back to nz soon (in Ozzie at the moment) and I can’t wait – I miss home! But I think more importantly I’m looking forward to seeing it through fresh eyes.

  10. Josie
    January 8, 2016 / 10:12 pm

    I spend waaaay too much time on your blog but I regret nothing. This is such an honest post and it’s even good for people like me to read (moving there in 5 weeks). I’ve had a few people lately tell me they got there and hated it and left after like 3 weeks. I’m telling myself I have to stay for at least 2 years (ancestry visa) and this post has just made me even more determined to stick it out no matter what! As a beginner ‘Londoner’ AND a beginner blogger, I think I’ll definitely be bribing you with a flat white so I can pick your brain when I get there xxx

  11. Alice
    January 11, 2016 / 5:30 pm

    You speak to my heart, exactly how I felt when I had to leave London for NZ. I didn’t want to go, that’s all I could think about! Ended up in NZ for about 10month, and decided I couldn’t stay, so now I am living in chile! Keep going until you feel ready to settle!

  12. Roshni
    January 13, 2016 / 2:12 am

    Get out of my head!!!! 😉 I’ll see you in 6 month-ish for my annual visit though 😀

  13. Jonelle Foot
    January 13, 2016 / 9:46 pm

    This is gold! Makes me kind of want to cry but laugh at the same time. And “there is always Australia” – bahahaha!!

  14. Vicky
    January 14, 2016 / 12:56 am

    Enjoyed your post. I was in London in 80-82 and this is exactly how I felt all those years ago. No ancestry rights had to come home after 2yrs 3 months and it was damn hard to settle in again. Back then not do many had travelled so couldn’t share the experiences. Luckily I met my husband to be very soon after and life took a new turn, Have been back to London 4 times since.it still holds a special place in my heart and on arrival I have this weird feeling of coming home. Best thing I ever did.

  15. lyn
    January 15, 2016 / 7:05 pm

    I’d like to slightly misquote David Mitchell:
    We live nowhere and we are strangers everywhere. We drift, often on a whim, searching for something to search for….your breed live in a host country that is never their own, and use its culture and landscape to learn, or stave off boredom. To the world at large both immaterial and invisible, we chew on the secretions of solitude.

  16. Jon
    January 17, 2016 / 5:38 pm

    Good post. It strikes a cord with me. I came here earlier then most other Kiwi’s – I did university in London and stayed on working afterwards. Its now my 8th year in London, the constant barriers and visa renewals have really worn on me trying to stay – but London is a city that is hard to leave.

    I do feel that at one point being unable to get a new visa might help make the decision for me. Force me to leave. Take the burden of “leaving” or “going home” out of my hands, and in some ways, prevent the guilt of abandoning my friends and life here. But for now – I’m staying and I’ll see where I end up, don’t think I’ve finished growing up just yet.

  17. February 2, 2016 / 3:47 pm

    It is true that staying in London for more time makes a big difference. The city opens to you and you start feeling more welcome and cozy. It is the same everywhere. I moved 4 years ago from California to England and have lived and worked in London ever since! I wish you the best of luck! Thanks for sharing!