London through the eyes of a Kiwi

Nicholas McBride has packed plenty of sightseeing into his first few weeks in London.

Nicholas McBride has packed plenty of sightseeing into his first few weeks in London.

If you want to make your fortune, then London is the place. As Nicholas McBride writes, the city came calling and he and many other Kiwis have answered.

A month ago, I quit my job in New Zealand, left behind friends and family and travelled to the other side of the world.

Suddenly, I was one of the thousands of Kiwis who swap  God's Own for the country that sponsors the top left quarter of our flag.

A very London scene. Big Ben and Parliament.

A very London scene. Big Ben and Parliament.

After nearly 21 straight hours on an aeroplane, I arrived in London, touching down at Heathrow.

As you try to sleep in an aeroplane seat, you wonder what on earth would persuade someone to leave behind the laid-back life of New Zealand for the hectic life of London.

I can't speak for others, but for me, it was something lingering inside. Something calls to you – the desire to prove yourself in one of the biggest and most vibrant cities in the world.

The London Eye dominates the city's skyline.

The London Eye dominates the city's skyline.

"If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere." Frank Sinatra was singing about New York, but the words ring true.

Let me be the first to admit I have been here a month, am living on a couch and still looking for work.

But being here, you can go one of two ways – get overwhelmed by the millions of people, or see it for the world of possibilities and opportunities.

Nicholas McBride, with his new home behind him.

Nicholas McBride, with his new home behind him.

Being in London is an odd experience. You are in a completely different country, yet everyone still speaks English, so nothing seems that foreign.

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It feels like you have woken up on a different planet and no-one else has noticed.

Though for all the language similarities, I'm certainly not in Kansas any more.

Rohan McGrath and Emma Collingwood made the move to London about seven months ago.

Rohan McGrath and Emma Collingwood made the move to London about seven months ago.

Suddenly, the simplest things are interesting: All the houses look like the opening credits of Coronation Street. The brick facades of the houses are a far cry from New Zealand's standard wooden dwelling.

Amid the hustle and bustle of the busy streets, you walk past a United Nations of different accents and faces.

Running alongside the Thames, you realise how lucky New Zealand is to have clean water. Upon closer inspection, the world-famous river is closer to the Ganges than the Manawatu.

A pub on a quiet night in London is busier than a bar on a Friday in Wellington. For some reason, Foster's is an exotic drink here, while Stella Artois is more akin to Tui or Speight's.

Every now and then – as you gaze up at the sky with a different aeroplane gliding silently overhead every minute – it hits you that you actually are here.

Standing before Big Ben and the parliament buildings is surreal – the icons of England from movies,  television and postcards are sitting calmly in front of you in all their ornate intricacies.

But perhaps one of the most surprising and humbling things is the kindness of those who have gone before you – fellow expats who are willing to offer a couch, a job contact or a beer.

The Kiwi  United Kingdom fraternity is a welcoming group no matter how long you have been here.

Emma Collingwood, 27, and Rohan McGrath, 29, arrived in London seven months ago.

They, like many Kiwis, made the move so they could see Europe and experience different cultures.

"Definitely a top drawcard for me is the proximity to Europe. My list of places to go is quite long," Collingwood said.

The pull of London and its "endless options" was another draw.

"I came from Wellington and thought that was big enough, but it's just a suburb for London," she said.

"I got to a point in New Zealand where it felt like I knew more people who were over here than I did in Wellington, so the pull was only getting stronger."

Job-hunting involved delving into the world of recruiters.

"The career opportunities here are great, but it does take a while to find a job and you need to be prepared for that.

"London is fantastic for generalists as it's big enough to have companies offering all manners of roles.

"Recruitment companies dominate the job market, unlike back home. So you need to be clear on what you want and proactive with your job hunt."

For McGrath,  the move was to experience living in another culture and another country.

"When we left  New Zealand we hadn't settled on what country we would move to.

"But when we visited London it seemed that everyone we met loved living here."

Despite living 18,700 kilometres away from "home", he acknowledged you spend a lot of time with other New Zealanders and Australians. "Which is ironic, considering the original reason I wanted to leave was to live in a different culture.

"Even so, we are meeting other like-minded New Zealanders that we wouldn't have met otherwise."

The culture change was still evident, though.

"The longer we're here, the more differences we notice."

McGrath said it took about six months to feel settled and to sort out their lives.

"I was lucky and got a job very quickly, but we have met people who have really struggled to find work."

So if London is calling, will you pick up?

 - Stuff


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