By Mary Bantug, SWAP UK Veteran
Twitter: @marmikban www.papayajelly.com
Before I went to the UK for a year, I was on this planned out, safe and stable (albeit boring and predictable) path. I had just graduated from university, and was in the mix of a 9 to 5 career when I decided I didn’t want to be on that path forever; at least not without anything interesting happening in between.
Enter UK SWAP.
I was still on an England high, having completed a Summer Abroad in Oxford the previous year when I decided that I needed to see more of Europe. I saved all my pennies, bought a one way ticket and 8 hours later, I was at Heathrow airport.
But wait! It wasn’t THAT easy. My parents didn’t warm up to the idea of having their eldest daughter moving thousands of miles away to a different country on a different continent alone at first.
How did I convince them? Well here’s a bit of background info, my family (mom, dad and sister) moved from the Philippines to Canada in 1988. It was for the same reasons everyone else was leaving a 3rd world country; for a better life, in a better country with better opportunities for their children. A- HA!
I argued and cried, and asked why they moved us here if they wanted us to live by the book and to just finish school, get married and have kids? We could have easily stayed in the Philippines, and I probably would have done all of that by age 25. What was the point of having all the opportunities that being Canadian afforded us if we weren’t going to take advantage of them? They instead wanted me to just stay in Toronto, to save up and buy a place – after all, wasn’t that the next chapter in the book of life?
I won that round.
My year in the UK seems blurry now – a great mix of historical experiences, accents, Ryanair flights, lessons learned and a new outlook on life.
I was based out of London, and I must say this was a great place to travel from because not only does it have a handful of airports to leave from, it also has discount airlines like Ryanair and easyJet at your disposal where return flights are sometimes less than 5 pounds.
In just 365 days, I saw/visited/did the following:
United Kingdom: The great Stonehenge, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the Royal family, the Cavern bar (where the Beatles got their start), Liverpool, Bath, Brighton, went Horseback riding in Wales and almost fell off, stepped in both the Eastern and Western hemisphere at the SAME time
Amsterdam: Anne Frank House, the Heineken factory
Germany: theBerlinwall, Sachsenhausen Concentration camp, the Brandenburg Gate
The Berlin Wall
Egypt: the Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, Abu Simbel, swam in the Red Sea, rode in a fellucca down the Nile River, rode on a camel and almost fell off
Norway: saw the famous Scream painting by Edvard Munch
London was also a great place to live and make friends. In just a year, I had made friends from literally all over the world; my flatmates were from Germany, South Africa and Spain and I had friends from all over Canada and from Australia and New Zealand.
Even though I left the UK almost two years ago, I still keep in touch with them and hold the memories with them very close to my heart.
North America vs England
After a year of hearing British and other European accents daily, I’ve also noticed little differences between Europe and North America. Apart from the cars driving on the left side of the road, here are a few other things I noticed:
In North America, the “@” symbol is above the number 2 key on the keyboard. InEngland, on most keyboards, it is SOMEWHERE ELSE! The pound symbol took its place above the number 2 key. I was so shocked!
Their fashion sense is amazing. No Duh. I never fully understood whyLondon,Paris and Milan were meccas of the fashion world until I lived inLondon. I left London two years ago, and only in 2012 am I seeing in Toronto, what I saw in London then.
Everyone wears cuff links. You don’t have to be a 75 year old british nobleman to wear them, like the way they portray in the movies. I’ve seen even women wear them.
You can drink on the street and you won’t get arrested. You can drink during lunch on a week day and it’s encouraged. You can drink on work premises and it’s not a problem. You can pretty much drink anywhere. Now if only we North Americans can learn THIS from the British..I mean we copied everything else didn’t we?
I always knew that “chips” meant “fries” – but that was the extent of it. After a year inEngland, I had added to that list of english words that meant other things:
“Take away” (food) = take out food
“Trainers” = sneakers
“Fiver” = five bucks
“Asian” = South Asian
“Snowed in” = swamped with work (this one in particular made me laugh, maybe because I’m Canadian)
Almost two years have gone by since I was slowly dragging my luggages back home to Canada, but still, it feels like only yesterday when I was checking in at the hostel. My year in the UK has been one of the best experiences in my life so far, not only did I see more of what the world had to offer, I also learned so much about myself when I wasn’t even planning to.
I learned that I like the taste of Earl Grey tea; that I hate large corporations that only exist for the money; that I can survive two weeks with only my backpack. Most importantly, I learned that while age is just a number, it’s also an indication of time when I could have done other things instead of what I actually did. For example, instead of working away for 7 years working while doing my undergrad, I could have travelled more, I could have volunteered more, I could have made a bigger difference. Because of this I learned to make the most of now. To live my dreams now and stop thinking that the future is still a long time away. Seven years can go by just as quickly as two years, and I don’t want to look back 5 years from now wishing I did things differently.