05 January 2024

How I ended up living in England

I previously told you the story of how I met my husband. But that wouldn't happen if I hadn't first moved to the UK, so let's go back to the very beginning - how I actually ended up living in England.

I'm from a small town in the south of Poland, roughly 25 miles from Krakow. When I was growing up, we didn't start learning a second language at school until year 4, which considering that kids start school in Poland at the age of 7, is 10 to 11 years old. I was lucky that my parents decided to send me for English classes earlier than that - they never got to learn English at school, because in their time it was Russian, so they wanted us to have a chance to get ahead with English to get better prospects later in life. I remember my first "lessons" were with a lady who used to live abroad and then taught a few kids at her home, but that was mostly us watching Cartoon Network in English (it was SO fancy to have access to that at the time), and occasionally doing some actual learning. But then they enrolled me in a proper language school, and I found myself doing pretty good at learning it. 

While learning English we obviously also learned bits and pieces about British culture. You know - the Royals, London and all the landmarks, Sherlock Holmes, kind of the basics. It became a dream to visit London one day - a seemingly unattainable dream in the times before the open borders, and before cheaper air travel became available to everyone. 

My heart was kind of set on studying English at university when I was in middle school (something that existed in the education system at the time), and I wanted to go to a language-focused class in high school. My family convinced me to choose the history and geography one instead, because "what will you go on to study later, English philology, to be a teacher?" - well, in the end, this is exactly what I said I would go on to study anyway.

In my final year of high school, when it was time to start considering universities, I came across some information about potentially being able to study in England. My three best friends and I bunked off school one day (well, with our parents' permission, so it didn't really count), to travel to Krakow to an education fair, where we could see the offerings of a multitude of universities and colleges from around the country, but also from abroad. That's where I met the people from the University of Bedfordshire, and I was instantly sold on the idea of going there - particularly as they offered the exact kind of degree that I was after! I mean come on, if I want to study the intricacies of the English language, what better place to do it than England?

I talked to my parents, we went through the prospectus, discussed all the logistics of me potentially going, and they got behind the idea. They gave me an insane amount of support, and when they saw how much I wanted to give it a go, they never said no. We weren't like insanely well off or anything, and despite me not needing to actually pay the tuition fees because I qualified for the student loan, I still needed a fair bit of money to fulfill that dream, so I totally would've understood if they discouraged me. They didn't though, as they saw this as a big chance for me, and I'll forever be grateful for their support.

So, after that slightly long background story, in September 2007 I boarded a plane, alone, for the very first time, and flew to Luton. In retrospect, I don't actually know what possessed me to do this - I was rather shy, full of insecurities, and there I was in a foreign country for the first time, all alone. I had £500 in my pocket, a room arranged through an online portal (that could've gone SO wrong for me, but that's yet another long story), and absolutely nothing and nobody to fall back on. I also quickly realised that I massively overestimated my proficiency in English, which I'd been learning for 12 years - I. Understood. Nothing. They teach you all the grammar and most useful vocabulary but don't tell you that people don't actually speak in Queen's English like on the tapes we listened to in class (Yes, I'm that old). Some time ago my mum was actually reminiscing about how I called her first time after coming here and cried that I couldn't communicate because I hardly understood anyone.

Fortunately, I decided to get here a little ahead of the start of the academic year, in time for Freshers Week, and threw myself into the international students' community. They were a massive help in those first days - took us around the town centre to get familiar with the area, showed us local shops so we knew where to get our essentials, organized social events. I even got to go on a few trips over the first couple of weeks: coach trip around Bedfordshire, another one to London, and even a day in Brighton. With the last one, I couldn't get my head around the fact that I was at the seaside in literally a couple of hours on the train - I remember my mum giving me an angry call because I hadn't phoned them that day, and she wouldn't believe I was actually sitting on the beach! 

Funny thing about my first London trip - it was SO underwhelming. Maybe because it was a coach trip, I only got to see most of the landmarks by driving past, and we only really made a few stops with not much time to explore. But I was massively disappointed - I said above that it was almost like a lifelong dream for me to visit London, and it was just a bit... meh. However, when I made my own way there after some time and got to actually experience London properly, I was happy to discover that my dream destination was all I hoped for and more. Now, despite our move all the way to Manchester, London is still a city that I never get bored of visiting.

My time in England was supposed to be short - the plan was to just stay for three years, for the duration of my degree, and then move back home and probably carry on with the Master's degree, or who knows. However, plans are one thing, and life itself is another - lots changed for me over those three years, and I just didn't fancy going back after graduating. I wasn't quite sure what exactly I had in mind for the future, but I was starting to feel a bit at home here, and even my family weren't asking me about moving back. Then I got together with my now husband, and the rest is history ;)

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