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Like countless fellow Kiwis before her, Rachel Wattie took the plunge and moved to the UK. Now settled in London, she's had to go through the rituals of finding a job, somewhere to stay, and getting to grips with the quirks and pace of UK life. The good news is that it's not all Brexit doom and gloom – all the great upsides of a Kiwi OE in London are very much still there.


 


During my last stopover in Dubai, fresh from a 22-hour flight, a text message popped up as I queued to board the flight to Heathrow - 
“You have an interview at my work when you get here! Is 3.30 pm okay?” It was a fellow ‘Kiwi in London’, who I had grown up with.

As my clock was still showing New Zealand time, I tried to calculate the time my flight would land. I should just make it. “Sure, and thanks!” That oh-so-glorious, long awaited nap would have to wait.

Just eight hours after my marathon flight landed, I was standing outside a global media agency in central London where I would have my first London job interview.  With minutes to go until 3.30 pm, I broke my 8-hour fast and scoffed a chicken baguette outside the building. A blob of red sauce landed on my white dress. There was nothing I could do so I went in, stained dress and all.

“So, you’re a Kiwi – when did you get here?” my interviewer, Mark, asked. “7am this morning.” I blinked, but struggled to open my eyes again so it was more like a 10-second nap.

Mark looked slightly alarmed – though not as alarmed as I had been two hours earlier when, in my mad rush to squeeze in a shower before the interview, I’d gotten on the train that went West instead of East. Even if he noticed the stain, he seemed to understand.

Within a month, the Recruitment Manager called to offer me the job. I’d been told things move fast in London but I wasn’t prepared for this fast. Time to book some travel before I started work.

Europe on your doorstep

The first great thing about London is that you have all these exotic European countries basically on your doorstep. Paris, South of France, Rome, Brussels, Prague, Amsterdam, Provence, Barcelona… where to start? I had dreamed of visiting France since French classes at school, so I decided to start with Paris.

As it’s known as the City of Love, it’s probably expected that one would go to Paris with a significant other, but I went alone and absolutely loved it. The best part of travelling alone is you can do exactly what you want, when you want. If you get lonely, you can always make friends (whereas it’s harder the other way around – as if you’re with friends it’s harder to get rid of them).

There are a lot of scammers in Paris – and they’re cunning. I walked past a street gambling game where a large group of people were laughing and having fun. All of a sudden, a tourist went to pull out their wallet to enter the game. Without skipping a beat, one man grabbed her wallet, threw it to another, and the whole group ran it separate directions. It turned out they do this often to steal from unknowing tourists.

Paris is quite an expensive city, but I absolutely loved practicing my ‘survival French’, eating the delicious French cuisine, gawking at the gorgeous fashion (and people), wandering around in beautiful parks, and breathing in a whole new culture.
 

Travel around England

And if you don’t feel like going too far, there are plenty of beautiful places to explore within England. I booked a week to Bath, Chepstow, Cheltenham and Bristol. The stunning, historic architecture of the Roman Bath’s in Bath, the music festivals held within former castles within Chepstow and Cheltenham, and the S.S. Brunel Museum of Bristol were just a few highlights.
  

Your friend’s cousin’s boyfriend’s mum will have you to stay

I know this headline is a bit tongue in cheek – but it’s got glimmers of truth to it.

Many people advised me to avoid hanging out with Kiwis when I got to London or I wouldn’t branch out. We all know that Kiwi who moved to another country, met a Kiwi there, and became friends or started dating or whatever. I used to hear those stories and think: ‘That’s so boring. Why not meet someone from another culture if you’re travelling?’ But when I got here, I finally understood.

London can be overwhelming. People walk straight into you all the time, there are rules that you need to learn fast (like standing on the right-hand side on the elevator in the tube stations), and random guys think it’s okay to come up and start chatting to you (and don’t take the subtle hints to go).

Since arriving, I had at least six different friends from New Zealand offer up their couch, floor or spare bed. When everything’s new, there’s something comforting about a flat white date with someone who knows your homeland.


 

Park runs

These groups meet at 9am on a Saturday at various parks London-wide, do the 5km run then go to the pub for brunch. You get given a barcode to swipe each week after the run and receive an email with your time and personal best information – for extra motivation. I’ve done it most weekends since arriving and it’s an awesome way to keep fit and meet new people.
 

Great British Bake Off 

If you haven’t yet discovered the Great British Bake Off, do not fret. It’s on Netflix and we are heading into the best TV weather ever – cold, wet and miserable. I suggest that on the next cold day, you get watching (maybe even bake yourself a cake to enjoy while doing so). My workplace has even started doing a Bake Off Take Off on Mondays. I’m proud to say I’ve entered three times and won a title each time. For those Kiwis who prefer to do actual baking rather than watching it, Bake Off is already searching for its 2019 contestants so get applying. 
   

Recruitment agents 

If you’re like me and are moving to London on a Tier 5 Visa to apply for jobs – be wary of the recruitment agents. Many of them are more like vultures. Case in point: I went to an interview with one company, was told that as I didn’t have London experience, I would earn 10,000 less than the salary I wanted, I wouldn’t be able to go for a senior role, and that it was unlikely I’d get a permanent role as it’s “extremely rare” that companies will sponsor Kiwis once their visa expires. They also tend to put you forward for the roles it’d be a breeze for you to get (rather than the more challenging ones you really want). I managed to prove the company wrong by getting offered the salary I wanted, in a senior role, at a company who said it wasn’t a problem to sponsor New Zealanders after their work visas expire – and I did it without their help.


 

Live shows

The Lion King, Matilda, Harry Potter, Wicked, Aladdin, Hamilton and Kinky Boots are among a plethora of amazing musicals and theatre in London – not to mention regular live concerts too. So far, I’ve been to the concerts Little Dragon and Fat Freddy’s Drop and the musical Aladdin – all amazing, memorable nights with friends and/or family.
  

Museums

With its cold weather, London has many activities to offer for miserable winter days. The many, many museums are one of these, and most of them are free entry (though you have to pay for special exhibitions). Some of the best of these are the Victoria and Albert museum, the Museum of London, the Natural History Museum, the British Museum and the Tate Modern.
 

The pub life

Weekly Thursday nights at the pub are a given, but when Christmas season rolls around, pub lunches, cocktail parties, and mulled wine at Christmas festivals like winter wonderland are a common part of your typical working week. After all, when it’s like 2 degrees outside, everyone needs a mug of hot, spicy wine to keep them warm and mellow.  Pub quizzes are also a fun part of London life (although if you’re a Kiwi, it can be hard to answer some of those British history questions).
 

Getting called an Ozzy

Even though there’s this ongoing rivalry between Kiwis and Ozzies, when you come to London you’re basically one and the same – so get used to people making fun of your ‘Australian’ accent, asking how about what Australia’s like. It’s pretty normal for people in the UK to forget New Zealand’s even on the map – so don’t be alarmed if you find maps that leave it out.


 

Parting words of advice for Kiwis thinking of moving here…

Before I moved to London, my biggest fears were that I wouldn’t have enough money to survive if I arrived here without a job, that I wouldn’t get a job, and that I didn’t know enough people and would be lonely. None of these fears came true.

There is so much career opportunity here that if you set your mind to getting a job and ask around, you will. The best ways to find work are through LinkedIn and through people you know referring you.

As for meeting people, before I came, I wrote a list of all the people I knew in London (even if only vaguely or if they were a friend of a friend) and then contacted all of them. Almost all of them responded, and those who didn’t, I probably didn’t want to see anyway. Already, I’ve made many friends through work, flatting and generally from getting out.

My advice to Kiwis thinking of moving here is this: you regret the things you don’t do, not the things you do. If you’re trying to get over an ex, or bored at work, or just need something to change in your life, moving to a new setting is the best way to take a step back and gain a new perspective.  The tiny things I was worried about in New Zealand, like people at work, friends or boyfriends past, or things I regretted saying, suddenly don’t matter anymore. And I have no doubt that when I one day return to New Zealand, I’ll be able to look at those things or people in a whole new light. Having been here now for four months, I can say with 100% certainty that moving to a new country is one of the best medicines for mindfulness, self-awareness and mental health. 

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AUTHOR

RACHEL WATTIE

Rachel is Global Search Content Manager for PHD Global Business in London. Before moving overseas, she was a journalist in her home country, New Zealand, writing for newswires, newspapers, a medical trade publication and healthcare companies. Aside from storytelling, she loves hiking, running, skiing, travel, cooking and reading.

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