Life in the UK - What Are You Doing Here?
I started this Life in the UK blog series as a self reflection piece, to put everything into perspective and to remind myself that the road (less) travelled is not a lonely experience but a fulfilling one. In this part of the series, I don't hesitate to share what those early years felt like and how it has shaped me into who I am today. Often asked 'Where are you from?' by curious and interested people I am meeting for the first time, I immediately warm up to them. My usual response is, ‘I am from Fiji’! But internally, I find myself asking this question over the years, especially when life was really tough living abroad away from all things familiar. WHY am I here? is my point of reflection to this rhetorical question, "What are you doing here?".
Building the context of who I am is a good way to explain why I am here. I am a mid-40 year old Rotuman woman living in Wiltshire, United Kingdom. My parents are Rotuman, from Fiji. When I graduated from high school, I went straight to university and studied tourism and management. I was fortunate that my first job, after university, was in the hotel sector. I worked in Sales & Marketing, for a 5 star resort in the Cook Islands. After 3 years, I returned to my home country and worked for a regional tourism organisation, promoting the South Pacific as a tourist destination. I got to travel for work in this role, it was a dream come true and a start to a promising career.
Soon enough the novelty of international travel wore off. I began to desire stability and a family of my own. My future husband and I were in a long-distance relationship, we both wanted to settle down, so we got married in our mid 20s - cutting to the chase, we had a shotgun wedding/civil ceremony. It was hard to leave my family and community, moving to a place where I didn't know anyone or hadn’t visited before. There weren't many people like me in the area where I moved to, so it was difficult at first. But I knew that if I wanted my dream job and family life, then this was what needed to happen.
You need patience, perseverance and faith when working toward your dreams; without these qualities there is no way forward!
A year after our son was born, I returned to work. We needed the money, and I missed the workplace. I was hoping to make new likeminded friends and gain some independence. There weren't many other coloured people around when I started working at my first full time job. And there any military spouses either. I adjusted to being the only coloured person in an all-white environment, this happened often and something I took in my stride. Quite frankly, I was naïve and didn't pay too much attention to the differences but just looking to work peaceably and get the most out of my career. It was not easy getting a job that matched my skills and experience, so I was just grateful for the opportunity.
What are you doing here?
How will it change you?
Why is it important for you to be here?
These questions gave me perspective, kept me grounded. I knew what I was doing here, I chose to be here because I wanted a family. We were raising our child together here, we wanted to give him a life with more opportunities, to make a difference. I guess this holds true for most people who migrate, they do so for the economic opportunities and to break free from poverty. Why is it important for me to be here? Because I was ready to take the risk, able to do the work and deal with culture shock, committed enough not to give up when things got tough, and smart enough to learn from my mistakes. I knew why it was important because I believed that we needed to stick together, that’s what marriage is – self-sacrifice and hard work. The reality was that we didn’t have a choice, we couldn’t go back because we had just begun.
The personal growth over the years has been remarkable. I grew stronger, capable, ambitious, unstoppable, and never looked back. I had to make friends with people from all different backgrounds, which was difficult at first, but it helped me understand my own culture better and appreciate it more. I learned so much about myself and I conquered my fears.
It's important to keep going, even when things get hard. You don't have to do everything by yourself. You must be willing to ask for help, to at least try to help yourself, there is a support network of family and friends who are on this journey with you too and want you to succeed.
Nearly 20 years later, we are still married, and we have built a good life, more than we ever imagined or hoped for. Our journey with God has been a testament to His faithfulness and that we can truly say that His grace and power transformed our lives completely.
We started our journey as a young army couple, with no financial support from our parents but the clothes on our backs, living in a 2-bedroom flat, furnished with second hand furniture, homeware and appliances, always borrowing a friend’s car to do our weekly grocery shopping and even to get me to the hospital to deliver our son. We were literally living on a mother (in law)'s prayer! As humbling as our beginning was, it was a defining moment for our relationship and the groundwork for what came next.
We have moved 6 times in our married life, lived in 3 different flats and 3 different houses, became a homeowner twice, lived in 2 different countries, travelled to more than 10 countries and several cities, countless army training exercises and 4 operational tours that turned me into a single parent, a few strategic job changes/career pivots to suit army life and positioned me for civilian life, completed my MSc degree on a part-time work/salary via online distance learning, owned 2 pets - a cat then a dog, had the privilege of having our family visit us in the UK, got to experience British culture & nature, even meeting royalty HRH King Charles (Prince of Wales at the time) and met many people from all walks of life. And it doesn't stop there!
We all get one life and the best life lived is the one lived for God. The blessings are too many to count, which makes it all worth it. Somethings didn’t go to our plan but it’s been God’s plan all along. I have been reminded time and time again, God is in the details, and He had everything under control. It is because of Him, we get to celebrate 19 years of married life together, our journey of 26 years since we met.
If there was some advice I would have liked to receive when I started my life here in the UK, it would be this:
Connect with the right people - pray for genuine friendships and likeminded people to fellowship with. Don't assume that everyone you meet will look out for you. And don't hold on when you should really be letting go, learn to discern the difference.
Be humble about who you are - accepting that you don't know it all. Be willing to learn. Every season has its own challenges but builds your character in so many ways, from being a newly married couple, to being a first time mum to going back to work (part time/full time) or school, to travelling and volunteering. Embrace it all.
Don't rush the process - enjoy the season you're in. Whether you're experiencing breakthroughs or waiting for one, be patient and present. We can miss the point of the season if we're already looking to what is coming next. Equally so, if its time to move on, be obedient. This was an area God dealt with in me. Regret is not a place you want to be in but its a lesson that goes deep.