I’d always wanted to live in the UK. It was a strong yearning from a young age, and I felt that if I didn’t at least give it a go, then I’d always have a sense of disappointment. My mum is English, but other than that, I had never been to England myself. I only had stories from others and information I’d seen on TV or read to go on. In hindsight, it seems a little crazy to move half way across the world on a gut feeling, but I did it!
Deciding where to live
Selecting where to live was a little like playing pin the tail on the donkey with a map. We approached the ‘where do we live’ question by drawing up a list of what we did and didn’t want. This was going to be a long term thing, so we wanted to be as comfortable as possible.
Ruling out London
With this in mind, we quickly ruled London out. For our 20 something selves, we may have loved it, but for our 30 something selves, it didn’t seem to fit. Initially, we’d considered Scotland, but with the referendum in place no one was hiring and it would have been my husband finding a job and me getting by on what supply teaching was out there. Also not an option.
These are the reasons that you should also consider having a UK experience outside of London.
Ultimately it was work that lead us to East Sussex. It is quite easy for Australian teachers to find jobs and I was offered a position in a school that met all of our criteria. After three weeks of hunting, we had a large 2 bedroom flat (at the price of a small single bedroom, or flat share in London) to ourselves and we’d both begun work. I was a 15 minute commute and my husband a little longer 1.5 hours into London.
There are lots of job opportunities, particularly in the south of England and in the larger cities. Be picky and look around for something in your desired area. Don’t be forced into living somewhere because you are afraid you won’t get work. After all, you can always move if it doesn’t work out – a travel friend of mine took locum jobs in as many cities as she could whilst living here and had a truly diverse and fantastic experience.
Secondly, for me, teaching in London generally did not have a good rap. Whilst I am sure there are many lovely schools out there, for every nice one, I do believe there are more not so nice ones. The system is much different in the UK, children are much more direct and the demands placed on you are far greater. Some areas such as the south of London are a little notorious for being difficult to work in and I wasn’t particularly keen on immersing myself into that environment.
If you are planning to work in the UK, make sure that you have the right VISA. Common options are a youth mobility visa, ancestry visa or right of abode.
London is NOT the only big city in the UK
London is just one city. If you’re an Aussie like me, cities like Leeds, Birmingham and Bristol will be as busy, and as big, as any city back home. It is not like Australia where big name bands and events are only held in the capital, they are held all over in the UK, so you will not miss out on things to do. Whilst the big smoke may offer the familiarity of finding people from back home, the extra work you do to make friends with the locals will be just as rewarding and afford you a more authentic stay.
Natural beauty on your doorstep
Instead of living in the big smoke, you can live somewhere beautiful, like the foothills of the South Downs. Spend your weekends visiting local farm shops, strolling through bluebell woods and rambling over the chalky cliffs of Beachy Head. These beautiful wonders will be your backyard, and if you miss the big smoke, smaller towns such as Brighton can offer a reprieve if you can’t be bothered trekking into London.
London can still be closeby
Being an easy commute to London, means that you can visit as often as you like. If you book in advance it will cost you as little as £10 return and there is more than enough time to get a full day of exploration in. I’ve managed to see nearly all of the main sights within a year of living here, as well as discover some local delights. After all of the hustle and bustle and excitement of London, you can relax on the train ride back, and enjoy the comfort of a roomy apartment.
Transport in the UK is excellent
Whilst we may bemoan and groan late trains and buses, compared to Australia, the UK is very well connected. Within 1.5 hours I can be in London Victoria, in 50 minutes I am at Gatwick Airport and in 40 minutes I could be at Newhaven ready to board the ferry to France. Buses run regularly, and so long as you are clever about where you base yourself you can easily get to work on public transport and get around on the weekend, with only the odd taxi required. There are many international airports to choose from, and quite often Heathrow is not the cheapest to fly from or easiest to get to. You have choice
London is crowded
London is a busy place. It is a far bigger and busier city that I was used to, and if you are from somewhere smaller and quieter, it may just be a little overwhelming. I don’t mind a day of it, or an afternoon, but to live in the hustle and bustle, particularly commuting during rush hour, is not my idea of a good time. There are no crowds where I live. I always got a seat on the bus or the train and there are plenty of services so wait times aren’t long.
London is expensive
London is expensive! Generally I consider £1 to be worth around $2 AUD (Post Brexit update, maybe worth a little less now!). This being said things generally cost in pounds what they would cost in dollars in Australia. Take for example delicious Chelsea bun that I nibbled on whilst wandering around Covent Garden. It cost a whopping £1.80, where I’d be paying around $2 for something similar in Aus. To be fair, some jobs do pay a little extra to allow for the expense of living in the city, but it certainly won’t cover all of the additional costs and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to afford to do as much as if you live out of the city.
There's lots to do outside of London
The UK has a large population, and most people who live in regional towns, or country areas have moved out of London for a quieter life. This doesn’t mean that they don’t like having a good time. You will still find a pub on most corners, and during the summer months outdoor cinemas by the sea are also popular. Most regional towns will have a beer, food or cider festival as well as local celebrations such as bonfire night or the Jack in the Green. Regional cities like Bristol have every type of cuisine you can imagine as well as a thriving night life. Local comedy festivals, with top acts make their way around the country and Broadway shows such as Cats can be seen in theatres. There is plenty to do during the day and the evening and plenty of opportunities to meet new friends and continue any sports or hobbies you did back home.
The round up
Like I had my heart set on living overseas, you may have your heart set on London. If you do get here and realise that it isn’t what you thought it would be, or isn’t quite for you, know that a UK experience can be much broader than being another Aussie in London. If you’re still deciding to make the move, look at all of your options, you might just be pleasantly surprised with the benefits of living out of the capital.