The Michael Bublé song Home has been stuck in my head on repeat for the last couple of days, because that’s genuinely all I can think about. I’m currently stuck in London, with no job, no place to live, awaiting the next flight back to Sydney amid a global pandemic like our generation has never seen.
I’ve always wanted to live in London, ever since my first trip to the UK in 2015, and being lucky enough to be a dual citizen, it turned into not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’.
Around six months ago, after years of debating it with myself, I finally found the courage to book. I’d finally done it, I’d pushed aside all of my worry and fear and I was going to live out my dream of moving abroad.
So in January this year, after six months of planning, saying goodbye to friends, quitting my job and packing my whole life into two suitcases, I found myself sitting alone at the boarding gate on the edge of the biggest adventure of my life… And I was petrified.
I landed on January 29 and headed straight to my aunty’s place. I walked through the front door to her open arms and the first thing she said to me was, “If you want to cry, it’s okay you just let it all out.”
But I didn’t, I don’t think the enormity of what I’d just done had really quite hit me. It all still felt like a holiday.
It took me a good four days to get over the jet lag and then a good two weeks to have myself pretty well sorted and ready to work. A new bank account, the English version of a tax file number and a new phone.
The job hunt began, as did the rejection letters beginning to pile up in my inbox, but I didn’t let it get me down. After all, the main piece of advice I got from people who had done it before was ‘London is a hard place to live and work, but you have to push through it and once you find your feet, it’s so worth it’.
Then, of course, there was the hurdle of finding a place to live. London’s a very expensive place, even for a tiny bedroom, and without a full-time job, I was struggling to get approved to rent. So I had to stay in Airbnbs for a while.
At this point, coronavirus was nothing more than a low buzz in the background of everything else that was screaming at me in my life. My brain was so taken up by the worries of finding a job and somewhere to live and succeeding in my new life in London that I didn’t even have time to worry about the virus.
Until one night I was scrolling through Instagram and saw my Aussie friends, who had been living in Milan for a few months, fleeing their apartment in the middle of the night to race for the border before Italy shut down.
And just like that, the news started to change very quickly. Italy was shut, the confirmed cases in the UK were growing by the hundreds every day, and people started to seem uneasy.
This last week in London has been the weirdest experience of my life. Within days the advice went from coughing or sneezing into your elbow and washing your hands as much as possible to don’t travel unnecessarily, work from home if you can and no more going to sports games, theatres, pubs or restaurants.
All of my job opportunities dried up, my backup plans gone and even the job agencies I had signed up with, all closed. Some of my friends started losing their jobs, either being let go or left without work because of event closures with no idea when everything would open up again.
The whole Australian community in London began to panic. I had put down a deposit on a room in a flat, but with no form of income and no idea of when anyone would be able to start hiring again, I knew I could only last in London for another month or so on the savings I had.
What if the virus lasts longer than I can afford to stay? What if they close the borders and I can’t get home? I’ll be stuck here with no money, no job and no place to live. Things were changing daily in the UK and it seemed a border closure was imminent.
I spent days in bed crying on the phone to my family back home. I genuinely didn’t know what I should do and the stress wouldn’t subside. All the posts in the Aussies in London Facebook groups were discussing their options. People that had lived in London for over a year were abandoning their houses here to go home. But I didn’t want to give up my dream, I didn’t want to look weak or feel like I’d failed.
It wasn’t until my dad sent me an email that cut through all the stress in my mind. He said: “Rach, things are changing rapidly and it’s getting to be unpredictable. I think your mum, brother and I would be much happier if you came home to ride this out.”
The decision had been made for me, and I’ve never been more relieved in my life. They wanted me home, I hadn’t failed at my adventure, I just no longer had any other choice.
I’m currently sitting in a hotel room awaiting my flight home tomorrow morning, while London begins to shut down around me. By the time you read this, fingers crossed, I will be on my way home.
There’s a lot of fear and sadness in the world right now because of this pandemic but one thing I have noticed being abroad during this time is that Australians support their own in times of need, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.
I’ve made new friends in the past three days, people in the same situation as myself who’ve given me advice and sought advice themselves.
I’ve learnt that the power of a conversation at the moment, is one of the most important things in the world.
Rachael Hart – 2020