Out and about: back on home soil

Out and about is a column where we chat with people who currently live abroad, of who used to live and work there and returned to South Africa. We would like to hear from anyone who would like to share their experiences with us. This week we chat with Elisabeth Lourens who lived in the United Kingdom and is now back in South Africa.

Hello Elisabeth, where did you stay abroad?  

In a town in Sussex named Horsham. I chose it because I thought it was close enough to London and a beautiful part of England.

How does it feel to be back?

There is no place like home.

Tell us about yourself and your adventures in the unknown. What was the nicest or worst adventure you experienced there?

I am a language therapist and an audiologist. As a 40-year-old, I am single, and one wants to grow and move and progress in life. Apparently “a change is as good as a holiday” …

Well, after one year of planning and saving (and five years of dreaming) I was also approached by an agent to go work in England as an audiologist. I was excited and had visions of the beautiful snow photos that would be displayed on my Facebook page. I also envisioned how successful I would be and certainly look. Of course, there was also the prospects of doing better financially.   

From beginning to end, the whole tour was one huge emotional challenge. You have to wait a long time for your registration at the medical board, and once it happens, a lot of things happen at once. I had to find accommodation within one week and found a flat to rent online. I also had to book an airline ticket at the last minute. (I considered cancelling after the agent’s supposedly low fee escalated to R10 000 but decided to push through with it.) With my arrival in England at Heathrow Airport I had to transport two large suitcases. The trains and instructions were very confusing, and although I usually travel with ease and self-confidence, everything was difficult from the start. I still have no idea how I managed to travel south to my town with my skinny physique with two suitcases and all the countless trains I had to board. I just remember at one stage I fell from the escalators with the suitcases on top of me. I should rather have booked a taxi.

When I arrived the estate agent had a sudden change of heart, and I was not able to move into my place. We still had to ensure the deposit and first month’s rent had gone through on the England side. Thankfully I am a girl of plan Bs. I stayed with a lady from church for one week. It might sound bad and negative, but all the worst experiences were basically there. The people … the food … the work … Missing Sakkie, the best dog child ever … missing decent meat … missing friendly people who do not think you are strange when you are friendly and when you try to exchange pleasantries … missing the way audiology is practiced in South Africa. The best experience was just to be able to get on a train and go visit friends in a beautiful little town named Arundel. Friends are everything when you go overseas on your own.

What did you miss the most about South Africa?

The people … my family … space … meat … my dog.

What was the biggest adjustment for you abroad?

Everything. One morning I was very anxious when I woke up. I could barely breathe. I was in the denial phase and could not believe I had been dumb enough to go to England. That day I escaped to a wine farm in Dorking, regardless of the fact that I do not know anything about wine. The wide-open spaces were medicine for my soul and saved me that day. I experienced God in nature, and I was so thankful.

Did you find it to be a culture shock?

Yes, it was a huge shock, even though I had been there six times previously on holiday. Working there is different.

Was the work culture an adjustment?

Yes. We were like an express train, everything revolved around money. I realised that I was also going to become like that … and lose my humanity.  

Any lessons that you learned?

The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. Success is not money. It is OK to make mistakes. (I never should have left).

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

As a Christian I believe God made each of us for a purpose. We need to let go of ourselves and hand our dreams to God. We must listen attentively, if you do not have peace about something you should not go ahead and do it. I lost a lot of money. Yet I got a second chance, because God is a God of second chances. South Africa, I am here now … just for you!

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