Lessons Learnt Moving to the UK

Lessons Learnt Moving to the UK

Emigrating from one country to another is a huge life changing decision that many people have pondered with. Everyone has their reasons whether it’s temporary or permanent. It could be for a better life, to advance their career, to travel more or simply just to experience something new. Today’s topic is something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while. Personally, I think it’s good to take stock of one’s life every now and then to reflect on how you may have grown or changed as a person from your life’s experiences. After chatting to a few friends I thought it would be good to share my thoughts and theirs on the lessons learnt moving to the UK from South Africa. It was very interesting for me to hear my friends thoughts as some have been here longer than others. The opinions in this post are obviously specific to South Africans but these thoughts can be related to others who are thinking of leaving their home country too.

Conveniently I was able to categorize all our thoughts under the headings below. I have ended each thought with my friends initial in brackets.

Lessons Learnt Moving to the UK

1. Our Adoptive Country

  • The world is your oyster. You are only limited by your choices and the opportunities you don’t take. (Me)
  • Accept that we have to be very aware that what is considered polite and acceptable in one country is not necessarily acceptable in another. (R)
  • That comparing the two different worlds is tiresome and not constructive. In order to move on, stop comparing currencies, weather, house size. Just enjoy the positives and stop looking back. (R)
  • I am capable of being on my own living in a cold country with different cultures. (G)
  • I have an appreciation for good infrastructure. (G)
  • And an appreciation for the choices we have. (G)
  • Walk fast! Try to catch the early bus 😉 (N)
  • Put yourself out there in every possible way. (N)
  • See it as an adventure (play epic music at times if that helps to give things meaning). (N)
  • Meet people and find support. You’ll experience the weirdest kind of loneliness you’ll ever know but most people here are feeling the same. You’re not alone in your loneliness, be kind when you can. (N)
  • People will take advantage of you if they can, know your worth and believe in yourself. (N)
  • When you’re feeling depressed, walking around the city can inspire you. Try remind yourself why you’re doing this, keep the end in mind. (N)
  • Have a flexible plan, stick to the plan but adapt as you go. The things you want will change over time. (N)

2. The Motherland

For those that don’t know, “The Motherland” is a South African slang phrase for your home country 🙂

  • Growing up in SA, you never lose your bad vibe/trust instinct and it’s not necessarily a bad thing to still be alert when in uncomfortable situations. (Me)
  • To view my homeland more realistically. (R)
  • I appreciate South Africa and what it has to offer in terms of the climate and the food. (G)
  • The divergence between developed and developing world is not that wide, but it is easier in the developed world. (N)
  • I’ve grown more empathetic to the struggle of those in the developing world. (N)

3. The Weather

  • It won’t kill you to walk in the rain and if you always keep an umbrella to hand then you’re sorted 😉 (Me)
  • The weather is not everything and you have to appreciate the positives in both countries. (R)
  • The grass isn’t always greener, but sometimes it is and it’s usually because it rains more. That means grey skies. There is a trade off between sunshine and green grass. (N)

4. People

  • Some relationships are not able to last the distance but that does not mean that they were not genuine before the disruption. (R)
  • And other relationships have to adjust to the longer periods of time apart, but are still strong and will endure. (R)
  • That despite the differences eg. culture, weather, politics etc, we are all human and trying to survive the rat race. (R)

My Biggest Lessons Learnt

The two biggest life lessons I have learnt from my experience of moving abroad is: to be resilient and adaptable to change and that I am mentally stronger than I expected. Being flexible and having lower expectations helps with overcoming disappointments. Also dealing with the unknown, encountering challenging situations and hardships makes you grow as a person. It prepares you to be better equipped for life.

Leaving your family and friends, a “comfortable” life, familiar routine and surroundings is an extremely tough decision. Hopefully by sharing these lessons learnt you will now have an idea of the “struggles” that everyone has had to go through to adapt to a new way of life in a new country. And in turn mentally prepare you should you decide to take this step too 😉

What are your thoughts on this topic? I’d love to hear from you.


  1. Sal
    25th May 2017 / 8:49 AM

    Thank you for this! My husband, son and I are moving to UK in August. We have two sons there already, one for nearly 2 years and the other for 7 months. Although we are not youngsters anymore we have made the decision to pack up and go. We definitely realise that the grass is not always greener and that at some point you will always miss something whether it be in SA or UK. This is a huge opportunity and challenge for us and we are grabbing it!
    Thank you for your post it is very useful!! 😉

    • whatudidntknow
      25th May 2017 / 9:02 AM

      Hi Sal, it’s a pleasure! I’m so glad you’ve found my post useful, thank you for commenting 🙂 Good luck with wrapping things up in SA and I wish you and your husband all the best with this very exciting journey you are both about to embark on!!

  2. 25th May 2017 / 10:50 AM

    It does take a while to adapt to a new country its culture and people – it is so interesting to read your thoughts and about the lessons, you learned. It is certainly exciting and does leave you stronger in the end 🙂 Have a nice weekend, Natalie!

    • whatudidntknow
      25th May 2017 / 12:23 PM

      Thanks Miriam, I’m sure you can relate to some of these points 😉 Have a great weekend too!

  3. Roshan
    25th May 2017 / 4:02 PM

    Hi Natalie, I have been living here for 10 years now from living in New Zealand, it helped that my friends were here and I lived with them, but when my friends left I had to adapt so was a good challenge. Best thing I have ever done moving to a different country (UK in my case)

    • whatudidntknow
      25th May 2017 / 7:31 PM

      Hi Roshan, I do know that a lot of people tend to move back to their home country when their friends leave etc. so I’m glad that it worked out well for you in the end 🙂

      • Roshan
        26th May 2017 / 5:17 PM

        Thanks Natalia 👍

  4. 25th May 2017 / 10:19 PM

    Aw such a lovely article, South Africa looks the most beautiful place! Wahhh I think I would choose sunshine over grey skies but it is very green in our area 😀 xx

    I would love to follow each other on bloglovin’ if you like! My blog is http://www.icecreamandclara.co.uk

    • whatudidntknow
      26th May 2017 / 6:19 AM

      Hi Elizabeth, thanks for reading. Lol, South Africa is a beautiful country with lots to see and great weather. You should definitely go there for a holiday. I shall check out your blog on Bloglovin 🙂

  5. 26th May 2017 / 11:57 AM

    In my case, I moved from Belgium to the UK. I’m lucky enough to live abroad while being 2 hours away from my family, hahaha.

    • whatudidntknow
      26th May 2017 / 12:04 PM

      Hahahahha yes at least it is quite easy for you visit family when you want to 🙂

  6. Angela
    27th June 2017 / 2:39 PM

    I stumbled across this while at work in Edenvale, JHB. 🙂 My sister and niece moved to Swindon in January and love it. I have a 3 year old son and am trying to convince my hubby to move. SA is amazing, but let’s be frank, life here is limited. So on the fence but would love to live in a place where things actually work and function and headlines are not always awful and shocking. We have EU passports so feels silly to not experience life in Europe and try give our son a good start.

    • whatudidntknow
      29th June 2017 / 6:15 AM

      Hi Angela, thank you for commenting. I have always told people that have the “key” to get into the UK more easily than others should definitely give it a try if you can. Yes, it is a costly move but you’ll never know unless you’ve done it. And if it doesn’t work out then you can always go back to South Africa. Personally I think it’s the best opportunity you could give to your son for his future. I also know of people that have moved to the UK, moved back to SA and have moved back to the UK again! So if anything, there must definitely be something on this mud island that captures the heart 😉

  7. Maureen
    23rd August 2017 / 3:29 PM

    Thank you for this wonderdul article. My two daughters have been living in the Uk for years. I wish I could go, but it’s difficult at the age of 46 to get a work visa. I’ll will keep trying because I want to be with my girls.

    • whatudidntknow
      23rd August 2017 / 8:51 PM

      Hi Maureen, thank you for your lovely comment. It must be frustrating for you to not be in the UK with your daughters. I hope things work out for you and that you’re able to join them here one day.

  8. Thato Lebotsa
    13th December 2017 / 9:17 AM

    Ive been toying around with the idea of packing up and leaving South Africa for numerous reasons. I love my country, My family and the people but with all that’s going on I’ve had enough. I’ve been going through the internet trying to find some kind of direction but I’m so overwelmed with all the sights that i don’t even know which ones to trust. could you please assist me?

    • whatudidntknow
      14th December 2017 / 10:30 PM

      Hi Thato, thanks for your comment. Are you thinking of coming to the U.K.? You could have a look at https://www.gov.uk/browse/visas-immigration or contact a company like Breytenbachs to find out more about visas.

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