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.
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?
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.