Aussie Music teacher Monet Hawkins made the move from Melbourne to London in October 2014, and despite only planning to stay for three months, is still here two years later. Here she shares some stories (and some tips) about what it was like arriving in London, finding her feet, and how the experience has transformed her both personally and professionally.
When colleagues ask me what I did on the weekend, I have to pinch myself when I reply, “I went to Spain.”
Every time I look up in amazement at Westminster Abbey, listen to Big Ben chime, or am commuting in a downpour near St Paul’s Cathedral, clutching an umbrella, I have to ask myself, “am I really here? Is this real?”.
My London story was only supposed to be a short one. My original plan had been to live here for three months – do a bit of travelling, pick up a bit of work, get some life experience. But then three months turned into six months, six months turned into a year, and now one year is pushing closer to two.
Moving to London wasn’t simply the beginning of a new chapter in my life. It felt like I had started a whole new book.
Within days of arriving, I had made friends to share pints with at the hostel I was staying at. After only two weeks, I had signed up with a teaching agency and lined up an interview at a school in Harrow, North London. Within a month of arriving I had also found a house in Clapham, which I now happily share with three South African girls. It all came together incredibly smoothly.
Teaching in London is very similar to teaching in Australia, aside from a few jargon words that you’ll pick up on the job – e.g. ‘principal’ is ‘headteacher’, ‘CRT’ is ‘supply’, and ‘pants’ are ‘trousers’ (be warned – if you talk about your ‘pants’ over here, it means your undies!). The school day is structured the same, the subjects are similar and the kids are just as cheeky. They are fascinated by Australia and often delight in asking questions like, ‘‘Did you live in a hut in Australia?’’ ‘‘Have you ever seen a kangaroo?’’
One of my fondest teaching memories was the night I got to play the pipe organ at Harrow School – one of London’s most famous and elite independent schools that was first established in the 16th century, long before Australia was even on the map. Playing that magnificent instrument while my students sang Christmas carols (under the watchful eye of the portrait of former pupil, Winston Churchill) is a memory that will stay with me forever.
Homesickness is the natural, inexorable subplot to my London story. It can hit you hard. But with London being so transient, (I challenge you to find a Londoner who’s actually from London), it’s important to remember that you and half the other locals are experiencing the same pangs for home. Support can be found through the friends you make, the people you live with, the other teachers you meet, and even through online communities like Aussies in London who organise monthly drink meet ups. (For any New Zealanders out there, there’s a Kiwi equivalent, Kiwis in London).
I can’t even remember the person I was before I decided to leave; I’ve misplaced that book. I’ve reinvented everything I thought I was and what I was capable of. I’ve grown so much as a person and my teaching practice has followed suit. Moving over to the UK is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, both personally and professionally.
So where the bloody hell are ya?!