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Claudine Nel
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The ups and down of UK life

17 November 2010, 09:30  - Claudine Nel
I am not writing this to compare it to South Africa, it’s just so you get to know a little about what it’s like because I know many are curious and love to read our stories.
Before we moved here, I had never been out of South Africa and I liked it that way. But my husband got a job in London and as soon as our second daughter was eight months old we left, me kicking and screaming. We have been here for four years now and I am so glad that we came.
We live in a large town in Surrey less than an hour's drive or half an hour train ride to London. Surrey is lovely - the weather is better than up north, the people are mostly nice but a bit posh (which is a good thing I think).

The positives about living here are:
Summer is nice with long days and there are loads of outdoor things to do, parks, gardens, zoos, farms to visit.
My girls' school is amazing and it’s free! The teachers get paid well so they do their best. They do a lot of learning outdoors and through play and they have access to a forested area which they visit often. There they might learn about perimetre (older ones) or to find long and short sticks (Reception children).

They also get a cooked lunch at school including dessert which cost £2 per day. It might sound a lot in rands but here it’s very cheap for what they get. Also as the school is close to our historic town they only have to walk a while to visit a museum or a 1 000-year-old castle or a war memorial.

My daughter is also in a gifted and talented group and they have special activities for them (also free).  I don't know if it’s just this area but the kids are well-behaved and well-mannered, but they are encouraged to speak out. My daughter is quite shy and struggles with this but her teacher encourages her to be more confident and say what she thinks which I think is great. Drama, music, art and dance are taught as an important part of their curriculum. They also learn French at school.
It’s fantastic to be able to travel Europe. We've been to Italy (twice), Switzerland, France (three times), Holland and Belgium. Most of these places we simply drove to including Switzerland (which was a long trip though). And even though it doesn't really get very hot very often here in the UK, Italy is scorching in summer which was great as I do miss the heat. My girls learn so much and love travelling. It’s also great to be able to visit London easily. We're hoping to visit Greece next!
The NHS (National Health Service) is very good and also free. You only pay £7 when you get a prescription, but children get medicine free. My daughter has asthma and whenever she needs medication I just fill in a form and then collect the meds at the pharmacy. Children also get dental care for free but it’s really expensive for adults.

It is quite easy to make friends when you have children as there is a real community feel. Loads of free playgroups at local churches you can attend with your pre-schooler and plenty opportunity to socialise when they are at school with coffee mornings and nights out organised regularly.

Also there are loads of cultural and community events which are celebrated - bonfire night, Halloween, Christmas - we have loads of fun. For instance in November they turn on the Christmas lights in town. The whole High Street is packed with people and they have Christmas craft stalls, entertainers and once they've turned the lights on - Fireworks! We go every year and the kids love it.

And I nearly forgot because it’s such a given here - it’s safe. Children can walk to school, we walk to the shops and the park, I don't lock my door. Maybe I'm a bit too relaxed but I just love not having to worry.

As in any country there are a few negatives (these are my personal negatives):

The winter is long and dreary. They turn the clocks back at the end of October which means it gets dark early. It rains a lot, the sky is grey and snow is not as much fun when you struggle to get your kids to school due to icy, slippery roads.

The houses are small and expensive. But this is due to the fact that we live in Surrey which is very expensive. But I really miss my South African house with its two bathrooms and two lounges!
It’s crowded, roads are narrow and parking is tight and expensive – to park in town costs £1.10 an hour. Even on a weekday it’s difficult to find parking and though it’s free to park at my large local Sainsburys (like Pick 'n Pay) it seems to be packed most of the time.

Certain things are very expensive. A return train ticket to London costs over £20 per person. We have a family rail card which makes it much cheaper but it only works when you travel with kids. Eating out, cinema and shows are also very expensive.

It takes six years to become a citizen in the UK. As my husband is on a work permit it is frustrating as he cannot change his job easily and it’s also unsettling. Before my youngest went to school, I couldn't really go back to work as childcare is extremely expensive (more than £50 per day) but I've since realised that I quite enjoy being at home with my kids and that it’s a privilege to be able to do that. For some reason we couldn't afford that in South Africa but here we can (but then we don't have the big house, two cars, maid, gardener, security, and medical aid).

Well that's life here. Much the same as anywhere else - rush kids around, cook, clean - it’s mostly the view that's different...very green but not necessarily greener than before! But definitely safer though.

- Are you a South African living abroad interested in sharing your views? What is it like for a South African living in a foreign country or how do you view South Africa from a distance? Send us your columns to and you might get published in our new Beyond Borders section.

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Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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