Jemima Ung. Current location: Bath, England.
Anecdotes From the First Month in England
This was going to be an opportunity to start over. To open my eyes to the world. There were no ties, nobody with pre-conceived ideas of who I was, this was going to be my making. I was going to assert myself confidently in my new world and create my own happiness. I was going to strive, achieve and succeed! I was going to grasp life with two hands and launch myself into the big wide world! The world was my oyster! This was it, this was my time! Cue the Chariots of Fire Theme Song.
Well as you can imagine, Chariots of Fire was the last thing playing in my first couple of months in a new country. The soundtrack of the first few months was the melancholy twang of my tears and sobs, the percussion of my head banging against the wall; the nervous rattle of my anxiety as new people introduced themselves to me.
THE FIRST GROCERY SHOP
I did my first grocery shop. I waited after the man had scanned my items. We both looked at each other, glowering. Neither of us made a move. I tapped my foot and tilted my head. He tapped his finger and raised an eyebrow. And then it dawned on me as I glanced around, into the frowning faces of the others in the line. He wasn’t going to pack my groceries. He wasn’t even going to give me a bag! I was supposed do that myself….? I stared at my pile of items. I panicked. I gave a jaunty grin, squared my shoulders and then scrambled out of there with an assortment of green vegetables sprouting out of my bag, milk beneath an arm clutching rolls of toilet paper in my left hand and cradling an assortment of detergents, fruits and meats between my arms. I looked like some sort of Lidl fanatic who got too greedy and looted the store, grabbing anything and everything I could get my hands on.
THE FIRST SOCIAL OUTING
I was doing well at meeting new people, at least I wasn’t running in the other direction. Not a bad start I’d say. There were parties and coffee dates and getting to know people. I was feeling good. Look at me go, being social and all. I gave myself a little pat on the back.
“Fabulous, well I’ll see you s’arvo”
I raised a sardonic eyebrow that said “mate, we just organised this, do you have short-term memory?”
Instead I said sweetly:
“Isn’t that what we decided?”
“Coffee at 3pm?”
I grinned but I was getting impatient.
“Excellent, s’arvo then”
I gave a firm affirmative nod.
They screwed up their face at me, questioning.
Oh no, here we go again. I tried to refrain from rolling my eyes (I don’t know if I succeeded)…
“What are you on about?”
I cocked an eyebrow.
I widened my eyes in awareness. I was speaking Australian. My bad.
“Oh I’m so sorry what I means is: I will see you ‘this afternoon’.”
And here I thought moving to a country that also spoke English would be one less thing to worry about. Obviously I was wrong.
I called home:
“I’m coming back”
“Give it some time, you haven’t been there long”
“You’re stronger than you think”
“No I’m not”
“You can’t give-up yet”
“Oh yes I bloody well can!”
I was ready to throw to the wind thousands and thousands of dollars, the time and discomfort of flying 24 hours to to get to another hemisphere, another university degree, the chance to travel to Europe, to see the world. I shook with the conviction that I would defeat the homesickness by eliminating the one thing that stood in my way. This foreign land. Oh that worthy cause, home, I was prepared to throw my new life away…after already throwing my old life away. Good plan.
I knew I would be homesick. I wasn’t that naive. But it was a punch in the gut that I wasn’t prepared for. I was floundering in a sea of unfamiliarity. I would walk into Sainsbury’s and damn it hell for not being my local Coles. I would wake up to the pretty trills of the native English birds and long of the harsh cackling of the kookaburras and the ear piercing screeching and squawking of the cockatoo’s. I would walk past the luscious, green rolling hills of England with disgust, aching for the brown and dry landscape of my sunburnt country. I would cringe at the sound of the various clipped and punchy accents around me and longed for the lazy drawl of home. I would wake up every day to a watercolour of grey. Everyday. I just wanted some sun. Was that too much to ask?
Well I’m still here. In England that is. I’ve finished one year of my degree. I have a great group of friends. And I’m enjoying myself. I even got a little sunburnt. But damn I miss Australia.