Eyewitness accounts: Documenting Lives Migrant Voices: Romanian in the UK So this is the thing about coming to the UK. If we wanted to make it big, we had to go to London, everybody said. In every specialised profession, if we were looking for reputation, acclaim and recognition, we had to come here because we could not receive it in our own country as much as in London. It was in London that our breakthrough was meant to happen. There was a great hype for all high flyers to put themselves to the test, to conquer vicissitudes and see how far they could go. That is why we came to London. It was the pursuit of a dream and come here to deliver the performance of a lifetime, get the applause and say: yes, I've done it!
But once we get there, every second of living was a nightmare. From the bank accounts to housing. We came via a unique university scheme from Germany where we were doing our masters degree in British Studies in close collaboration with British Council and British Embassy in Berlin. We thought we were in good standing: we were heavily disciplined by the German educational system to push hard not to embarrass ourselves in UK. I say 'we' because it was me and another girl from Bulgaria from the same programme who arrived at the same time in London and consequently formed a companion to share and live together. We were not paid for our work placements even though we turned up to the offices with the most rigorous ambition as if we were being paid six figures.
Photo: Copyright DOCUMENTAR, Democracy Village, London, 2010
What we were receiving in grant money from university was all right for Berlin but nowhere enough by half what we needed in London. Also the quality and standards were far lower and everywhere a major disappointment. Both I and my Bulgarian friend spoke good English and were dead serious and committed not to let an error slip but it was not long until we were being taunted for the language, accosted by men 'ladies, you lokin good' as soon as we left for office in the morning. These were the first warning signs that our odyssey in the UK may be more slippery than we had imagined. But we were resilient as we were made to believe that this suffering was part of our success. I was the one to book in advance our London rooms over a dial-up internet which cost a lot in phone bills in 2002. I did not have the resources to spend researching online and emailed the hostel about the transport location zone so that we knew how to plan our finances. The answer was : 'we are in zone 1'. In reality this was Romford outside the zone 6 of London Transport area. To this day after a decade of living in the UK, I will not change my opinion that I had to be very careful when dealing with the English as they were proven cunning and deceiving. From Essex, a non-London postcode, we had to commute to central London at Westminster via a bus, a train, and tube changes with an average journey time of 2 hours each way. On the way at the Romford bus stop there were loads of teenage school kids in uniforms. What struck me was that they were wearing school uniforms with ties and jacket suits but were never talking about school issues. They lives were only about dating. They were loud and extremely explicit and confident talking about sexual pursuits. It was the first time in my life ever that I saw teenage kids so open and unafraid in public space in showing sexual interest and nothing else. At the weekend I went to the local market which looked more like a black market, a flee market with stalls, an oriental bazaar with clothes and foodstuffs. I was glad to see cheap prices. I was constantly making calculations to make sure that my budget will last long enough. One day I made plans to buy myself a new coat for 20 pounds but I was postponing buying it. The reminiscence of this particular episode makes me emotional all the time, I even spoke to mum how I wanted a new coat and she said to go ahead absolutely, not too expensive and looking good. We were here to save and make money and not splash it on whims. I feel emotional because aged 26 I wanted to look good and have a nice job to be appreciated and I was there window-shopping in a bazaar unable to piece together a precarious reality. Berlin had been a phenomenal city where we could go to glamorous shops and even as students the prices and quality were exceptional.
Photo: Copyright DocumentAR, Democracy Village, London, 2010
Was London a big mistake? I wanted to learn to write well in English and I reminded myself that all good sweet things come after suffering. Sweet things never came in London. It was rough, hellishly ugly in every manifestation of fashion or femininity elegance. The English were judgemental, precarious in their knowledge of international issues, not keen on intelligent talk, not much in anything other than sex and drinking. Europe with the cafe bar culture and elitist intelligent conversations was nowhere to be found here. Constantly mistaken as 'poor dirt', I was never understood. I went without food for days as I regarded it as a temporary student way of life. I was stoically keen on education, in the hope that if I showed my illustrious academic achievements, I will go far and I will be in good stead. But I was still poor dirt and looked down. Although I was in academically-orientated places, people were not much interested in education as a merit in itself: 'oh yeah, students and stuff'.
Photo: Copyright DocumentAR, Democracy Village, London, 2010
EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS Online Magazine Call for Articles and Personal Stories for publication DocumentAR-
academic online documentary
repository, is looking to
journeys written by migrants in the UK themselves. The writers have the full rights and liabilities of the content of submitted stories. The articles must be no
longer than 1000 words edited and proofread in good
standard English. Personal photographs of choice can
be included. There are accepted for publication texts of individual
shared analyses as to how it would have been different
and lessons with benefit of hindsight as well as successful enterprises. The stories can include details
of successful enterprises as PR exercises as well as events, organisations and names that contributed to
their success. The chosen texts will appear online in a
magazine publication with visibility on Google search. Materials can be sent electronically by email at : email@example.com