Exactly 10 years ago today I arrived in Heathrow to have an adventure in the UK. I was 16, already in love with England and with a place at Oxford & Cherwell college.
Many things happened since and my adventure is still going. Here are 10 things that I experienced on the journey to get to know the UK better.
Studying here is the main reason why I moved and I am still studying! After finishing my college, and an undergraduate degree in law, I am only a month away from finishing my Masters Degree. I love studying in this country because you don’t just have to memorise things for the sake of passing exams but get to really evaluate the issues. Critical thinking is essential to getting good grades and that is the very essence of why the English university system is one of the best in the world.
I could write a lot here but I will mention a few highlights. I was involved in local, national and European elections and by-elections and had a chance to see how the English political system works. What I found most interesting is how easy it is to be involved, how competing interests are managed and how realistic it is for grassroots campaigners to influence real change. I had cake with the former Deputy Prime Minister, had a drink with the Monster Raving Loony Party, helped win a few elections and shared the disappointment of losing many more. I made great friends in politics and their enthusiasm made me not only appreciate how amazing England is but also how many people there are who are striving to make it even better. Oh, and I sat in the House of Lords!
Many parties have been had in the last 10 years. From drinking and playing chess in one of the Oxford colleges, to dancing all night with a bunch of goths, to intense debates about the meaning of life that last for 16 hours… I met many amazing people in England, some of them, I am certain, are my friends for life but more about them later. In general, I found that English people are interested in life, loyal and have drinking capacities that are no less than of those from my Motherland.
I have had unforgettable cultural experiences in England, many of which I shared on this blog. The highlights are seeing a Shakespeare play in Stratford with David Tennant in the main role, meeting opera stars at the after-show party in Glyndeborne, seeing Benedict Cumberbatch live and many many trips to the Royal Opera House. I also met Emma Watson from Harry Potter, went to a Doctor Who convention dressed as the TARDIS (definitely the finest television in all time and space) and saw the New College choir in one of the oldest English churches. As a Russian girl, culture is very important to my life and England proved to be more than capable of satisfying my soul.
5. Work places
Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve been very interested in how places work. In the past 10 years I worked in pubs, charities and even a military organisation. That gave me a unique perspective of how different areas of English life work from the inside. Now I work for an amazing charity called LawWorks, which supports access to justice.
6. Legal world
After years and years of studying English Law, I am still in awe of its traditions, practices and complications. Why have statutory system when you can rely on precedent instead? That is far more interesting. I am very lucky to work in the heart of legal London with amazing lawyers who give up their time to help those who can’t afford legal advice and are not eligible for legal aid. I’ve only been there for a couple of months but I am struck by just how generous and passionate so many lawyers are. This kind of generosity is fundamental to British culture. Oh, and I sat in the Supreme Court!
I am still amazed by how many different accents there are in the UK. Not only from foreigners, such as myself, but local people too. I spent time in Hastings, Oxford, Northampton, London, Liverpool, Cardiff, Edinburgh and different bits of the Countryside, including the West Country, Pembrokeshire, Oxfordshire and the Lake District. Each place has its unique identity – it is truly fascinating. Apart from one time when a drunken football fan was shouting ‘dirty Russian’ at me, I always felt very welcome here. I am eternally grateful to all who welcomed me in this country and made me feel that my foreign origin is an advantage, rather than a disadvantage. There has been a lot of negative press about immigration recently but in my experience I found that British people are truly hospitable and inclusive.
8. The Queen
We were invited to to the Royal Garden Party in the Buckingham Palace and saw the Queen. She looked lovely. Most people I know here don’t approve of the monarchy but I absolutely love living in a Kingdom.
There have also been challenges in living in the UK but a problem is not really a problem if you have family and friends to help you through it. I am incredibly lucky. Firstly, my own family sacrificed lots to afford to bring me here and always believed that I can succeed and achieve anything that I want. Secondly, there are so many friends and families of friends who always supported me and allowed me to share lots of wonderful moments in their lives. The key families are the Abbass-Saal family, who were my host family for many summers in Hastings while I was still at school; the Fine family, who not only let me live with them for a while but also supported me in the most crucial moments, without them I would not be able to stay here. Also, the Power family for many parties in Oxford and free holidays in Wales, and the Heaton family for many challenging and fascinating discussions (and also many parties in Oxford). I’ve never been alone or lonely in 10 years thanks to all my lovely friends. There are too many of them to mention in this blog but they know who they are.
The last but the most important thing that happened to me while I’ve been here is finding my soul mate, a fellow Hobbit, Patrick. Considering my obsession with the UK and ginger people, it came as no surprise to anyone that my husband is British. We got engaged after a few months of knowing each other and now we’ve been married for over 4 years. My parents-in-law are celebrated academics, my sisters and brothers in law are all incredible lovely people and I am privileged to be a part of the Murray family. Oh, and their great great grandfather wrote the Oxford English Dictionary. #justsaying
On reflection, 10 years ago I made the right decision and I hope to have many more adventures in the UK. While Russia will always be my Motherland, I can honestly say that England feels like home.
Here is us celebrating in the Shard!