This month we chat to Karol K, a South African who left Jo’burg to do a Gap Year in London in 1998, and never came back!
What’s your name?
Where did you move from?
I moved from Johannesburg (Greenside).
Where did you move to and when?
I moved to London in November 1998.
What was your reason for leaving your home country?
Actually I was only going to do a gap year in London! I matriculated and then did my CA in Johannesburg. Because I never did the travelling thing straight after school, I thought it would be nice to go to London and muck about for a year! My plan was to waitress and have fun and see as much of Europe as possible before coming home to embark on my career in accounting. As it turned out, I landed an amazing job at an accounting firm within a couple of months. They managed most of the paperwork for me and before I knew it my plan had changed to staying for two years. By the time I was into my second year, I was making great money and great friends! I knew I was going to stay a while, but I never imagined I would still be there, officially a UK citizen 11 years later!
Why did you choose the country you chose?
It seemed like the most fun place to do my gap year.
What is the best thing about your new country?
I would have to say the friends I’ve made, and the fact that I can travel so freely! I love the parks and the socialising. I love being able to pop into my local pub and see friendly faces, I love all the parks and interesting things to see and do and I really love my job. I’m still with the same firm I started with.
What do you miss the most about your home country?
I don’t miss Johannesburg at all! My mom has since moved to the UK and so has my sister – we all live about 20 km from one another. I think the only thing I really miss is the sunshine, but I get that when I go on holiday and the cold weather here has never really bothered me.
Anything you struggled to get used to in your new country?
No – I must have lived here in a previous life, because London was “familiar” to me the day I stepped off the plane!
Will you ever go back?
Yes! I got married to a Frenchman four years ago and we have a beautiful son aged 2. We plan to have our next within the next year or so, and then my husband wants to buy a wine farm in the Cape. We visited South Africa just before my son was born and fell in love with the Winelands (which I had never seen when I lived in SA!)
Which country do you identify with most strongly now?
I have to say Britain, then South Africa, and then France. I might even have a slight accent!
Which country’s sports teams do you support?
I love rugby and always support the Lions… unless they’re playing the Springboks, then I can’t help shouting for South Africa. When it comes to cricket, I somehow have to support the English team.
How does the food compare?
Luckily my husband and I both enjoy cooking, so we can’t complain!
Was it what you expected?
I never expected my plans to turn out this way at all. But I think for the most part London was what I expected. I had so many friends who had been to London and heard all the stories, so I think I knew what to expect, more or less.
How has your life changed?
I would never have been in the financial situation I’m in now if I had pursued my career back in South Africa. I would never have met my hubby. And I would never have been able to see so much of the world!
What advice would you give to others wanting to do the same?
I would advise you visit London first and see if it’s your kind of place. I know many South Africans who have hated it, and just as many who absolutely love their lives here. I do believe that nowadays it’s not nearly as easy to get in. So I would say – Do research and prepare for a lot of paperwork. If you can confirm a job first, all the better.