Melissa Loftman, a Law student from Canada, talks about using MSN and Skype to stay in touch with family, photography, Social Work and smiling at Londoners!
Melissa, tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from, what do you do, and what is your passion in life?
After the amount of job interviews I’ve done you would think this question would be easy but it never is. I am Canadian (Jamaican born), lived in Toronto from the age of 2 months to 5 years old, and then we moved to the suburbs (Mississauga). When asked I just say I’m from Toronto because I realise no one, unless they’ve travelled Canada, will have heard of my city. Currently I am a law student but I also work part time in the Social Work field. After completing my Bachelors in Canada I basically happened into Social Work when I didn’t get into law school. I really enjoyed it but after nearly 3 years in the field I knew that my original plan of becoming a lawyer was something I wanted to continue to pursue. So here I am; I’ve been working and studying in London since September 2008 and travelling whenever I can.
I have many passions in life as most do I suppose. However my professional passion is social justice thus the law degree. I hope to eventually practice in the areas of Criminal law, Immigration, and Employment. Personal passions include music, being creative, travelling and photography. I’d like to one day be a travel photographer as a side project.
When you first moved to the UK, did you have any trouble getting over and getting your visa? How did you make heads or tails of London, did you have something showing you the ropes?
The actual process of applying for and receiving a visa was very straight forward and quick so no issues there. The one main worry was housing. I had applied for housing through my university but did not receive an offer until really late so then I had no choice but to look to the private market and that was a daunting task. I had a few friends who had lived in London or had contacts in the city so they assisted me where they could and pointed me in the direction of helpful resources. I do have family in Bristol and Birmingham (that I had never met until moving here) and they were very helpful initially as they picked me up from Heathrow airport that first day and also put me in touch with someone who was renting a room. So, I basically pieced things together from various sources. The first few months were a little rocky here as I didn’t like where I was living but soon after figuring things out I found more suitable accommodation renting with students and that was when things turned around and I really started to enjoy the city. That was also when I started to post regularly on my blog because I felt like I had something to talk about.
In a recent post you talk about some of the relationships you’ve built, and maintaining them. How do you keep in touch with friends and family back home – is it hard?
The time difference (Toronto is 5 hours behind) can be annoying sometimes but I am a night owl so not often. It really only affects me the times when I want to call home or talk to a friend but I’ve got to get up early the next day. MSN and Skype are the main ways that I keep in touch with family and friends, I can live without television but I need the internet. When I moved here, my first house didn’t have an internet connection for about 2 months and that was hard because I was also very homesick. So, it was hard not being able to talk to people at home when I was feeling down. I of course used calling cards and internet cafes but that isn’t cheap on a constant basis. Besides that initial snag overall I don’t find that it has been hard keeping in touch and maintaining my relationships. What does suck is missing out on birthdays, holidays, and other important events.
You have a video of Tupac on your blog. Have you started to listen to any British bands/groups since moving to the UK?
I’ve listened to many British artists long before moving to the UK with one of my favourites being Radiohead. I really like the music scene here and in my humble opinion often find that the Brits produce many amazing talents. Being here has just allowed me to easily discover artists who haven’t yet gained international commercial success.
How often do you go home? What have you found to be the most significant difference between Canada and the UK?
It depends really. The first year I went home for a month around Christmas time and I also spent summer 2009 at home. I went home around Halloween 2009 for 3 weeks as a good friend was getting married. I plan on going home for a month mid August and I can’t wait. Ideally I like to make it home twice a year but it doesn’t seem like it will be possible this year.
For me the biggest difference has been the people. I preface this next part with; I DO mean to generalize, about London anyways. London is a tough city to get used to right away, for the traveller it is great as there is a lot to do, it’s easy to get around and depending on what you like to do it can be done cheaply. Shocking to say I know, since London is known for being expensive but it doesn’t have to be. A bit of research can make a trip here affordable. With that being said, living in London is another beast. Of course I am looking at everything with a biased Canadian eye and have found annoyances with getting used to how things are done here. Looking beyond being almost body checked getting on or off the tube during peak times, the rain, the lack of sun, the rain, and the general hectic pace of the city it is the general attitude of the people that is the most significant difference. People here typically look miserable and are unfriendly. This is not to say that I have not met some amazing people here because I have. They (native Londoners or native Brits) even agree with what I’ve just said. Canadians are known for being nice and I have to say generally we are, I’d extent that to North Americans actually. We’re welcoming and even smile at and say hello to strangers! A weird concept here and I’ve been told it is because people think that someone smiling at you may indicate mental instability, or someone is about to rob you, so I get it.
As a student, do you find making ends meet difficult? Have your parents been there in any tough times? Or what are some of the jobs you’ve worked to get you through those times? Ever thought of getting a tax refund when leaving the UK?
My first year here was tough financially and my parents supported me during that but this second year has been much better. I have the funding I need and working keeps me from incurring debt. As I stated before I am working in the Social Work field. My job takes care of all living expenses but I hope in the summer I’ll be able to work more and save a sizable amount to put towards tuition in the fall.
I haven’t thought about tax refund stuff at this point since I know at minimum I will be here for another year, but I intend to look into it well in advance of leaving, if I do leave.
Do you have any advice for students, from abroad, moving to the UK?
If possible visit the country first! I did not, I packed up and moved here and that was the first time I had been to the UK. Of course it may not be financially possible but again if it is possible do it, but maybe only if your degree is going to be more than a year. Other than that I would say look to the blogging community to get a personal perspective of what it is like to live and study in London. The details like visas are easy to manage but it is subtle day to day things that people capture in their blogs that I have found to be the most helpful and continue to find helpful living here. I’ve had people message me via the expat bloggers site I belong to asking specific questions about the transition and I’m more than happy to help navigate London if I can.
Melissa’s Blog: Life Across The Pond