Homesick & Half a World Away

In this special feature Rafael Pereira discusses his fears over moving half way across the world . This story was edited by Beth Wilshaw.

Moving to another country is a very challenging experience, in all aspects of life. Motivations are varied, however, two big divisions are whether the migration is voluntary or not. Of course, it could be easy to conclude that if you are forced to leave your home country, it is harder than a person who decided to leave of his own accord, but even in the latter case it’s not that easy at all.

Whether the person who has migrated chose to leave their comfort zone to study, work, or to run away from someone or an unpleasant situation; reasons are thousands. My opinion is that no matter which case it is, every single person gets affected in some way by an immigration experience. In my case, my choice was due to a mix of reasons but it was definitely a voluntary migration. Procrastination has always been one of my main characteristics and I have to say that the prospect of coming to study in Europe was postponed for nearly 10 years, from one reason to another.

My main reason to leave Columbia was to study a Masters in Journalism. But also, I wanted to leave behind a difficult relationship and a frustration with my professional life, I hoped to solve this frustration by studying my MA here in the UK, which I hope will open up many doors to new opportunities. I want to achieve something better in my life, I want to realise my dream career and to do so I had to leave my comfort zone.

My dreams of studying abroad finally came to reality in January 2018, when I arrived to the UK. You can read all the blogs, information sites, look at lots of pictures of the UK, but nothing compares to the reality of stepping off that plane. The very first scale of my journey was Bournemouth, a seaside town in the southern coast of England which I found easy going and laid back in comparison to the major cities like London and Birmingham.

Bournemouth was my home for nearly 9 months, until September last year when I moved to Manchester. Not many people know it but, Bournemouth is famous for hosting plenty of language schools and that is exactly what I did there, I developed my English and sat the required exam that would enable me to start my postgraduate study.

Fortunately, I had the chance to live with a local woman, whose children had grown up and fledged the nest- this was positive for me, as I am used to being independent and in all honesty I am not that patient with children.

Living with her was a great experience and it gave me the opportunity to jump right into the British culture. I learnt a lot from here about the British way of life. There was some small issues I had to get used to, such as the food she liked to eat (too much spicy and Indian food for me) but it was no big deal at all.

One thing that caught my attention was how multicultural the UK was. There are so many different ethnicities and cultures here. Another aspect that caught my attention was that everything seemed to be online. I'm not saying that in Colombia we live in the Stone Age but here I think the face to face encounters are less likely to happen, here we are talking about technology, but my impression is that customer service approach is different, without sounding crass, it’s rather rude in my opinion. So, to mention an example, when I arrived to Manchester I wanted to register in a language course at the University. I knew the way to do it was online, but one day, during the induction week I thought, I'm at campus now, what if I just go to the language office, register and pay the course straight away? Guess what? They said no, the only possible way is online.

In Bournemouth I found a job and a nice group of people to going out, which helped me to deal with the situation of being far from my country and relatives. However, in some point the city became too small for me and I started to get bored. I was expectant to move to London and start my masters degree, but sometimes things do not go as planned.

My initial plans was to go to Goldsmiths in London. I applied and received a conditional offer subject to get a higher mark in my writing in the IELTS (English proficiency test for foreigners). I tried three times, my overall score and marks in the rest of the competences (listening, reading and speaking) were good, but unfortunately I couldn't achieve what was required in writing.

In that point I received one of my first clear messages and it was that life was putting me in a different place than London. It was quite a hard few months, frustration and anxious  feelings invaded me, but I thought like, things happens for a reason and maybe London was not the place for me. Sometimes plans take a different path. Thankfully I had applied to also Salford and Leicester but decided to go for Salford because of the links that has with the media industry. In addition to that I had some problems with my funding that nearly put my plans to an end but over time these resolved.

It’s  strange but normally people miss people rather than places. In my case it was the opposite. Of course I missed my family and friends but the experience of living abroad made me miss my town and food a great deal more than I missed the people back home.

One of the good things of leaving your comfort zone is that you can leave behind everything and start completely a new life and that is exciting. However, no matter how far you are, you are still going to miss your town, family and loved ones and this can have a real impact on your mental health. Sometimes I feel a sense of emptiness, a pressure in my chest and a feeling of sadness overwhelms me. I don’t know if it is a coincidence, but sometimes when I am thinking of someone, a close friend or family member, shortly after that person texts or calls me and tells me that they were thinking of me.

To get myself through the dark periods, I find ways to feel connected with my homeland like reading Colombian literature. I am aware it is not the best way to improve my English but its just how I cope with things when I am feeling homesick and lonely.  Back in Columbia, I had regular appointments with my therapist and we now do Skype calls. I think that carrying on with my counselling with her has been great because helped me to keep on track, having someone to talk is good to deal with sadness and frustration feelings.

I’m not sure if it’s because my brain has been busy learning a new language and adapting constantly to new information but I feel I forget things easily and also my sense of reality about what’s happening in my family and in my country. I'm not sure yet if I want to stay either in the UK or in Europe after I finish my Masters, but to what extent should I still be aware of the life I already left behind? It’s a hard question to answer.

The experience of living abroad can be very turbulent, there are highs and lows but I feel it has all been worth it.  I never imagined meeting people from such different backgrounds than mine, learning different cultures and traditions, doing so many different jobs to pay the bills. I think all these experiences are going to last for the rest of my life and have made me the person I am today