“Go where the Grass is greener.” I remember this was one of my previous mentor’s advise. She told me that I should look for Nursing opportunities outside the Philippines as this can help me and support my family. Desperate to improve my family’s situation, I applied for a Nursing job in the UK and this year marks my 8th year of working in the UK.
Before coming to this country, my expectations of the UK were based mostly on novels and movies. Social media was not as big back then. Yes, it is actually greener in the British Isles figuratively and literally speaking. And now, my family can live a better life through my monthly “padala”. However it was not always straight forward living and working in the UK as a Nurse, and looking back I realise that I had misconceptions about the UK and UK nursing.
Let me share with you some of these misconceptions and my UK journey so far.
London is in the UK, not the whole UK.
When I got the offer for a Nursing job in one of the trusts in the UK, I was excited. They told me that I will be working in the Midlands. I do not know where Midlands was but all I can think of were the London postcards. When we arrived, I was surprised. It was not what I imagined at all. It was different. I could not find the world-famous Buckingham Palace, Hyde park and the London Bridge! Little did I know that what I thought was the London Bridge is actually called the Tower Bridge instead! I then realised that many Filipinos, myself included, tend to associate UK with just London. London is the capital and its one of the most vibrant cities in the world, but the United Kingdom has a lot more to offer. The United Kingdom with its countries of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have many bustling cities, historic towns and picturesque countryside. We are talking about York, Cornwall, the Cotswolds to name a few in England. The beautiful Valleys of Wales, the Edinburgh and the Highlands of Scotland, the Giant Steps of Northern Ireland are also just the tip of the iceberg! The UK has so much beauty and each country, town or city has something to offer.
Know More: Related Video- London or Countryside? Cost of Living in the UK
Sun in the UK is precious.
The movies I watched then always showed a sunny Britain. Being born in the Philippines, I am used to the tropical weather. I arrived in the UK last July 2013. I was expecting for it to be cold, thus I was wearing a coat. Upon arrival in Heathrow Airport, the sun was on full display, and it was blistering hot. Everyone was out and very cheerful! Parks were filled with people basking in the sun. Some were even half naked! I thought it was all normal but after a month the days became mostly cloudy and grey. There were many bright summer days that would be followed by rain. There were times where it seemed that all four seasons happened... sunshine, clouds, snow, hale, and rain all within just a day!
Being here for 8 years, I have come to appreciate the seasons especially spring and summer time! (Still not a big fan of winter). I learned to adjust with the changes. And just like most Brits, when the sun is out I also take advantage of the lovely albeit fleeting warm weather.
Read More: Related Article- British Weather Explained
Being called Love or Darling by my patients means nothing.
If you are a newly arrived nurse in the UK, has any of your patients called you love or darling? I had my fair share of embarrassment. On my first day doing ward rounds a patient asked me “How are you, darlin’?” I was blushing as I sheepishly looked back at him, confused as to why this grey haired blue eyed prince charming look-a-like gentleman who I barely know calls me darlin' (darling). Later on, I learned that what he called me is just a common term of endearment or pleasantry used here in the UK. My then mentor had to snap me out of it and explain. Furthermore darling is just a common term similar with mate, love, and even duck!. If you hear someone calling you with these terms, relax! These are only common pleasantries! And please try to read the room and make sure that when a patient calls you in this manner that the context is not with malice. According to an annual survey, the British public regards nurses as the most trust-worthy profession in the country. And so I guess, this mild transference of sorts is a manifestation of the public’s trust for us nurses.
Pardon?! British English is not the same as the English we learned back home.
Before I came to the UK, language was not my concern. Just like most Filipinos, I can speak, read and understand English language. When I started working in the UK, I was shocked. The English language I knew was different. Some of the words have different meaning. Here in the UK, chips means fries and crisps means chips. Confusing indeed! I learned that the English language we were taught in the Philippines was based from American English, thus it was different. Very different, indeed.
Like back home, there are also many different accents within the UK. Depending on where you are in the country, accents can also vary. There was a real adjustment on my part in understanding the way my colleagues speak and my colleagues also found it challenging understanding my own brand of English. Even though I aced my required English tests before coming over to the UK the struggle was very real. I had to learn how to talk clearly & slowly and listen intently! My most used word was “pardon?” Luckily my colleagues are very professional, and the adjustment did not hinder us in doing our job well.
Me, myself and I in all the house chores and work!
I think this does not only apply to us migrants in the UK, but for most of the OFWs. In the Philippines, I was used to having a lot of help - may it be from my parents, titos, titas or for some, from our kasambahay (helpers). When I moved to the UK, I had to do all by myself from the basic household chores like cooking, washing dishes, and even plumbing!
Yes you can get tradesmen or professionals who can help you but it all comes with a price. So I had to learn to do things myself. Thanks to You Tube I developed know how in many things especially cooking and plumbing! I can now get by with a few mastered recipes under my belt and I am now also confident in DIY-ing some basic plumbing issues in the house. Its as if I am Super Mario, I can do Italian dishes and also sort out leaks under our tap. These are life skills that I should have learned back when I was in the Philippines, but they were so easy to take for granted because of the amount of support around me. In the UK I have to trust no else but myself!
Career opportunities are vast in the UK!
When I started working as a Nurse in the Philippines, my idea of career growth is just one straight line. I become a nurse, then a supervisor, then a manager. If lucky maybe become a Chief Nurse. That’s it. I had that mindset even when I came over to the UK. Looking at social media and job sites I realise that there are many Nursing roles available for us. There were nurses who became educators, managers, and even book authors. Some have become specialists in their own fields, from medical to surgical practise. I was amazed how many pathways a nursing career can go- it can be the traditional pathway that I knew, or it can be a lateral move and hone specific skills, or a nurse can even totally move to a different industry. The world is your oyster! The UK gives more to those who want to develop their careers including the career shifters. Depending on which career pathway you choose, it might require further University studies or more training. But still the possibilities are endless and its up to you the nurse to decide on how you want to progress in your career.
So far, my journey here in the UK has been a massive learning experience which helped me grow not only in my career as a nurse but also as a person. When I first arrived here in the UK, it was almost like a fairy tale and I had lofty and unrealistic views. Reality can hit hard especially if we are not prepared. My suggestion for Filipino Nurses who are soon to arrive in the UK or for those who are still in the planning stages of working in the UK, is that they should do their research. The times have changed and gaining insights particularly in UK living as a Filipino Nurse is now available online and social media. Also have an open mind and be ready to adapt and embrace change. Real expectations when living and working as a nurse here in the UK means that there will be a transition and transformation in your life.
So for you, how has your UK Nursing Journey been?