10 Years in England
Back in August 2017, it was the tenth anniversary of me moving to England and Nick and I left England in September 2017 and have been travelling since. We will be returning to England on the 6th of September but we are not certain how long we are going to stay yet and whether we will settle in England. In the following, I would like to tell you about my background, my experience of living in England and what it was like moving to another country at the age of 18 on my own.
I was born in Germany as my parents were kicked out of Hungary for being Christians and were given a choice of either leaving the country or going to prison, so they chose to leave. They were living in a refugee camp when I was born in Villingen-Schwenningen and my brother was born in Konstanz a year and a half earlier. A year after my birth, my family moved back to Hungary as the country became free of the communist regime in 1989. My father is a talented artist and being one of 8 (4 brothers and 3 sisters) my mum was a stay at home mum, except when she became a music and dance teacher at our local primary school for a short while. You can imagine, we didn’t have much money and we grew up with very little, we were glad if we had enough food for everyone for the day.
My upbringing involves some horrible memories but also some great ones, as it was so many of us we had a lot of fun playing together, we didn’t have a TV so we were able to enjoy being children more except we had to grow up quickly and learn about the hardships of life from a very young age.
Our parents wanted to make sure that we had a good education and our father took us to music schools and we were able to learn an instrument of our choice. Sometimes this included us sitting in the back of a van trying to ensure that we can get to the music school that was an hour away as there wasn’t enough space in the car for everyone. At Christmas, we were happy if we had a nice meal on the table but we also received shoe boxes from abroad a couple of times which we absolutely loved and I still remember some of the presents that were in those boxes. I recollect thinking that one of my classmates was rich as she was able to eat yoghurt with her lunches in school and we only had bread.
Unfortunately, I experienced or seen pretty much all forms of abuse by the age of 18, the hardest being someone twice my age taking an advantage of me and I couldn’t get out of this because of being manipulated over and over and I was a naïve 17-year-old. I ended up in hospital at the end of these few months and was looking forward to leaving to England so that I would be able to find out who I was, and process things and I was accepted to be a volunteer in a church in Woking and I am grateful for my family for letting me go. I pointed at the world map and that’s how I ended up going to England so I didn’t have a clue about what to expect.
The First Few Years in England
Without God and without my relationship with Him, I would have quit and gone back to Hungary after a few months. My English wasn’t very good, and I didn’t know anyone. However, I was very determined, I put a lot of effort into learning English and after about 6 months I was able to express myself more. My host family bought my plane ticket at Christmas so I was able to go back to Hungary to visit my family.
I ate lots of food that I have never had before and some that I didn’t like but I ate them and was thankful for the family that I was staying with. I made a friend who I was able to share my past experiences with, she was the first person who helped me understand what I went through but it took years of praying and prophecies spoken over me until I was able to talk to others about my past, one particular one I will always remember where a church leader praying for me apologised in the name of all men for what was done to me.
People were very friendly and I got to know some lovely families in church. I noticed from the beginning that people were smilier and welcoming. I made friends from the organisation that I was with (Time for God) and the volunteers were from all over the world. I am still in touch with a couple of them until this day.
I was planning to go back to Hungary to study and I applied to many universities and decided that if I qualify for my first university choice I would stay in Hungary, but I didn’t get in. However, they made a mistake and I sent an appeal to the student government explaining their mistake. As I didn’t hear back and already had my ticket to England, I returned to the UK in September 2008 only to hear from my first choice of university a week later that I was accepted and I would need to go back within a week to start university. For me, this was a sign that I wasn’t meant to go back to Hungary as if I received this letter a week earlier I would have stayed in Hungary, my life would have been very different to now.
From this time, I decided that I was going to stay in England for longer, I wasn’t planning to go to university in Hungary anymore. God has provided for me ever since with jobs to pay my university fees in England and has been alongside me every step of the way.
After a few years, I learnt how hard it can be to make real friends. English people were extra friendly and polite but making real, deep, sincere friendships took a long time for me. Many people my age were also away at university but I still have a friend who I have stayed friends with from this time and I did have other foreign friends.
There were times when I was told that I was rude and impolite from the very beginning of my time in England when I was only just being honest with no intention of hurting anyone. I am defined as a direct individual by many English people and being direct is not necessarily seen as something positive in my experience.
I learnt that small talk is part of everyday life and I just had to get used to it. Most English people I have come across are extremely good at talking about the weather, food and other non-important things but it’s more challenging to have real, meaningful conversations or you would need to know the person for longer. Well, even to this day I am not used to small talk, how are you? I am fine conversations and I struggle with them every day. When I ask someone how they are, I want to know how they really are not dependant on how long or how well I have known them. Of course, there are many people who are different and I made friends who love me and accept me.
However, I have definitely learnt to be more polite and think about other people’s feelings more as a result of being in England. Sometimes I still tend to say things that I regret later though. There were times when I felt I had to change who I was in order to fit in. I am sure this is normal to any country you go to, nevertheless, I learnt to have confidence in myself and learnt to see the value in honesty and straightforwardness. God made me who I am for a reason and He loves me and without Him I am not sure where I would be. I have learnt the importance of the fruits of the spirit (love, patience, kindness, goodness, peace, gentleness etc…) from going to churches and meeting British people who welcomed me into their homes and shared their meals with me, even received money for no reason at times. When I was ill, church members made food for me and brought it to my door. I learnt a different side to God that I have not really seen in my life and I needed to grow in. I learnt what it means to be part of the Christian family and a real community.
Being one of 8 arguments were part of my daily life living in Hungary, sometimes unhealthy, intense, violent and unnecessary conflict as well and I found that many British people I came across couldn’t handle conflict and were the complete opposite, instead of talking through their problems, issues with me, they just stopped contact with me altogether, this included some friends that I thought were some of my closest friends as well. Resolving conflict wasn’t always possible even if I tried to have a reasonable conversation, this can of course be true for other cultures as well or could just depend on upbringing.
I learnt that British culture can be different depending on where you are. I felt more at home up North as people came across more straightforward and I felt I could be myself more though I did get spat at by a random teenager on the street for example. One of my favourite and best essays I wrote at university were about emotional intelligence, I would love to see a research carried out throughout various countries to see how differently countries would score as a whole, I wonder whether this could help in combating and responding to some issues in the world today.
Nevertheless, I am grateful and thankful for every single person I have come across in my life because they have helped me grow and many people continue to inspire me and challenge me to be the best version I can be.
A Challenge For Some British People
To follow Christ means that we learn to be vulnerable and are able to share the joys and the difficulties and pain of the other. We cannot do this if we don’t allow them in and we aren’t able to grapple with our deepest emotions ourselves. Even Jesus cried and wept over people’s lives, He helped them understand their struggles and helped them process them. One of the reasons why there is so many lonely people and so much depression and anxiety as people don’t feel that they can share their vulnerabilities. Churches need to be places where everyone can feel that they belong and are able to be themselves, where they can grow but can challenge each other too. If we want the world to know Christ, we need to break our walls down and let people in and let Jesus in.
The beauty of England is that it’s so mixed and there are so many nationalities, yet many people still stick to traditions and some of these aren’t helpful and might make people feel unaccepted. In every culture, there will be helpful and not so helpful traditions and customs but we can learn from each other. England likes to be known as a country that accepts everyone and is welcoming but for that to be true, visitors and non-English people need to feel that they belong and that they are able to share who they are with us. We need to learn to be vulnerable with each other so that we can have conversations where we can show real interest in the other and able to resolve conflict in a positive manner and learn to really love each other through our differences and imperfections.