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1st Contact with Rebecca Agnew

by 1st Contact | Apr 16, 2010
  • 1st Contact meets Bec, a “Thirty-Something Uncomplicated, Navigationally-challenged And Mostly Independent Girl”. Bec tells us about what it means to be a Queenslander, a nanny in London, a Sunday Snapper and an Australian living in the UK.
  • Immigration

    Hi Bec! Tell us a bit about yourself.

    I’m from Brisbane in sunny Queensland, but I grew up in Adelaide, so I guess I can’t call myself a Queenslander for, oh, I don’t know, another 30 years!  I don’t understand Rugby and State of Origin for me is just a great night to get a DVD.  I’m here in London working as a nanny, which is a big change from my previous life, slowly losing the will to live as an office receptionist, so I decided to change my career and move to London.

    You recently posted a pic of Regent Park from your early days of moving to London. As an Aussie, how did you find settling into life in London? How did you get a sense of how the city works? Did you have friends to show you where all the ‘hot spots’ are?

    This is the second time I have lived in the UK.  Back in 2003, I moved to Scotland to work in a large hotel in the Highlands, before spending a year in Manchester.  I now call that stay “my practice run”.  I learned so many things the hard way during that time (mainly that things just don’t work here like they do in Australia!) and I’m sure that has helped me to settle in a whole lot easier this time around.

    I get the best feel about London by getting off the tube and walking along the streets.  I love to discover things that aren’t always on my map.  Honestly, I just love being a tourist in my new adopted city, as much as I try to act like I’m not a tourist!

    What is blatantly nicer about Australia - compared to the UK?

    The nicest thing about Australia compared to the UK (apart from the weather!) is that Australia is where my family and friends are.

    And, in what department does the UK outshine Australia?

    Snow.  OK, so I had to mention at least that about the weather.  Being from Queensland too, it’s nice to have seasons.  One of the things I love about London is that pretty much everything is here.  You can have your pick of shows to see in the West End without having to wait until one comes to your town.  It’s also so close to Europe and I was able to say, at the end of last year, “I’m going to Paris for the weekend”, which is a sentence I never heard anyone say in Australia (for obvious reasons!).

    Was it hard to find work in London? How did you go about it? Do you work through an Umbrella company to take care of your tax obligations? How do you take care of your tax so that you can spend more time enjoying London?

    I actually found my job through my cousins, who live here in London.  Their daughter is in the same class as my eldest charge, and told me they were looking for a nanny.  I traded e-mails with my new boss, one phone call, then I was on the plane to meet them, and start working for them, for the first time.  I actually did everything backward when I moved here.  First I booked and paid for my ticket, then had my visa approved, then I got my job.  All the advice I received told me this was not the way to do it, and although it worked out great for me, I would not recommend it...it’s not good for your stress levels!

    My tax is all handled by the family I work for, as nannies in the UK are paid a net wage, so I am free to spend more time enjoying London.  My job is also live-in, so I have more money free to save (in theory!) or spend (in reality!) and I get to live in an area I could never afford if I was flat-sharing or renting!

    You have some great pics of St Paddy’s day on your blog. How did you celebrate the day? Anything unusual happen?

    Thank you!  I had to work on St Patrick’s Day itself, so it was just the parade for me on the Sunday before.  Nothing unusual happened...no dancing leprechauns, no pots of gold!

    You do a regular Sunday snapshot on your blog, where you post pictures you take of London. Which has been your favourite so far?

    The whole Sunday Snapshot thing started when I could actually think of nothing to write on my blog, and you know what they say about a picture painting 1000 words.  It would be hard to choose my favourite because they are all great memories, but I guess one that stands out to me would be one I took while walking along South Bank.  It’s a shot of one of the lampposts along the river, with St Paul's Cathedral and “The Gherkin” in the background.  I’d been here about one month and it just hit me that I was living in London now, not just here for a holiday, having to run around to make sure I saw all I could then off home again.

    Thanks for your time Bec. Any last words of wisdom for Australians moving to London in 2010?

    My advice would be, before you leave home, do as much research as you can, especially on the areas you want to live in and where you want to work (the closer these two things are to each other, the better!).  Another thing to do is sort out your bank from home, buy a package like 1st Contact because, trust me, I’ve done it the hard way the first time I live here and it’s an absolute nightmare.  This time I bought the package and had my account set up the first week I was here.

    Here are some of my tips for when you get here:

    Remember that each train/bus/tube journey can potentially take three times as long as planned.  Don’t forget a water bottle and a good book.

    Stand on the right on the escalators.

    Thongs here are called flip flops...don’t shout out “Thongs!” in a shoe shop in summer time.  This is very embarrassing!

    Do not go to Harrods on a Saturday morning.

    Take your camera with you everywhere.  There’s always something going on.

    Get used to queuing.  You’ll be doing this A LOT!

    Always have a coin for the buskers in your pocket.  Some of them are really good.

    AND, if you’re a bit cheeky, like me, call out “Thank you!” to the bus driver when you get off (people are not sure where to look when you do this and actually seem shocked that a human being is driving the bus!) and greet your checkout operator with a smile and ask them how their day has been!

    Bec’s blog: http://memoirsofatsunamigirl.blogspot.com

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