I emigrated to England

Ornella, 16, moved to England when she was eight years-old. She tells The Mix how she coped with learning a new language and developed a love of baked beans and Yorkshire pudding.

True Stories

girl in city

"I found it really hard at first."

My family and I used to live in Belgium and, to me, life was great. Most of my extended family live there, so there was never a loss of aunts to spoil me, or cousins to play with. My Dad is a journalist, but there wasn’t much work for him in Belgium at that time. When I was eight, he announced he’d found a permanent job in London, and that we were going to move. I was excited when I found out – it didn’t register that I was leaving family and friends behind and throwing myself into a different world. The excitement soon wore off when the reality of things began to sink in.

New beginnings

We moved over Christmas and I had to start a new school and learn a new language. I didn’t even have a uniform at first because in Belgium the majority of schools don’t have one. I didn’t know what the latest fashions were; what was in and what was out. It took a while for me to get into the swing of things and for the first six months I had extra lessons in order to learn English. This started with flashcards and progressed towards books. I’m a pretty quick learner, so I soon caught up. It was more of the social aspect and fitting in with the rest of my peers that took a bit more work.

For the first two years or so I was an outsider, no matter how much I tried to fit in. Sometimes it was my English that failed me, while other times it was the culture clash. This made me shy and self-conscious: a perfect target for bullies. There was one girl who went out of her way to make my life miserable and would often make racist remarks, amongst all the other insults she threw at me. Thankfully, some of my classmates began to stick up for me, and these people became invaluable as they helped me iron out the things that made me stand out as a ‘foreigner’.

By the time I left primary school to go to secondary school, most people couldn’t believe I’d only moved to England four years before. I’m good at languages and have managed to grasp the English language pretty well, even though I still have slip-ups now, eight years later, when I’ll come out with French or Dutch words. I think I was lucky that I was eventually able to fit in, grasp the language and adapt to the culture. When I go to Belgium and ask for baked beans on toast my relatives remark on my “English ways” – I guess baked beans isn’t too popular over there!

My advice to anyone who has just moved countries, or is planning to, is to try and find somewhere where you fit in. ‘Fitting in’ doesn’t mean losing yourself completely and trying to be something you’re not, but it does mean trying to adopt the new culture and language you find yourself surrounded by. English may seem complicated, the food may seem strange compared to what you’re used to, and the way things are done may seem unusual, but learning these things makes life easier in the long-run. A balance needs to be found between your old life and your new life.

Missing home

Homesickness, however, takes a while to wear off, if ever. The younger you are, the easier it should be because you have less memories and attachments to the place you’ve just left. I remember pleading with my Mum to go back home. I didn’t stop pleading until recently, when I started to regard both Belgium and England as my home. Belgium will always be my home, but I’ve grown up here, so surely that counts for something?

My Mum’s recently moved back to Belgium to start up a business and my little sister may be joining her soon. For my sister it will be like moving to a completely new country because she grew up in London, and things will be very different from what she’s used to. I’m not sure if I’ll be moving back as well, but I’d have to seriously consider it before I made my decision. It would mean having to find somewhere to fit in again, leaving behind my best friends, and where would I get Yorkshire pudding from? If I do move though, at least I’ll be prepared. Once you’ve moved once, you’re definitely more prepared for the next time.

Photo of girl in city by Shutterstock

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015