“Lost between two shores” – Reflections
No one ever said moving was easy. And as someone who regularly packs up her life and shifts countries every few years, I knew all too well moving to London as an international student would be its own special exercise in (un)belonging.
I won’t dwell on the reasons why London is a tough city to live in. Rush hour commutes, rudeness from strangers and the feeling of being alone despite being squashed into a train carriage with people on all sides are to name a few of the common gripes I share with other Londoners, new and old.
I’m more interested in how being an international student in the United Kingdom differs to experiences such as bouncing from country to country as a Third Culture Kid or going on exchange to Texas. This isn’t my first rodeo as a fish out of water, but the pond is different this time.
Being a Third Culture Kid entailed a privileged existence, a global childhood. Growing up in Indonesia and Hong Kong, I thought everyone had passports. Regularly transporting oneself across hemispheres was the norm. I grew up believing the world was borderless, that one’s home was a fluid concept.
Being an exchange student in Texas meant a year of sampling all the stereotypical fun of American college life without having to commit to a long term existence in the US. I wasn’t a long term threat – I had a return flight booked, a life to go back to. I was a novelty in the USA, someone exotic to be friends with.
Being a New Zealander in Australia allowed me to live the ‘Australian dream’ of high wages and increased job prospects, with no visa demanded. While so many are denied the chance to experience the stability and prosperity of Australia, I was afforded an effortless move (which is another blog post altogether, but suffice to say: there is a lot of room in Australia and the current political climate in Canberra is disgraceful).
Yet moving to England – an international student with hopes to settle more permanently, I am the ‘other’.
I am the interloper looking to steal British jobs, the odd accented job candidate with visa restrictions.
I am the disembodied foreigner vilified in the media.
I am the international student that the UK Border Agency hopes will leave the second I am handed my diploma.
There is a whiff of a quiet sentiment that I should ‘go back home’, that I am here for reasons Brits can’t quite discern, that it would all be easier for everyone if I went back to where I came from. I am not a temporary visitor, and therefore this pond is all too different from any other move I’ve ever made.
I am incredibly privileged to be in this position and I don’t wish to suggest Britain owes me anything. I am very aware of how lucky I am to be a Antipodean foreigner in the United Kingdom. Most people don’t have the chance to experience this lifestyle or to even be in a position to write self indulgent reflections on the process. I’m all too aware that international students from other countries battle tighter visa restrictions, hateful stereotypes and vitriol.
I enjoy England, and I look forward to the remainder of my time here – long may it last. But there is no doubt I am a foreigner in this small isle, not accepted on this shore.
Neil Diamond said it well;
“I’m lost between two shores
L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home
New York’s home,
But it ain’t mine no more
“I am”… I said
To no one there”