Moving to London during a pandemic has not quite been the Fleabag fantasy I had in mind

I always dreamed of living in London. I just didn’t expect it to be in these circumstances

Lynn Rusk in London. Photograph: Kathy Cheng

Lynn Rusk in London. Photograph: Kathy Cheng

 

Lynn Rusk is a primary school teacher and freelance writer from Castleblayney, Co Monaghan. She recently moved to London from Edinburgh

They say that life begins the moment you leave your comfort zone, but what I’ve learned is that taking the plunge becomes more challenging the older you get. In my early to mid-twenties I flitted from country to country, without giving thought or consideration to how my decisions would shape my future, but after recently moving to London in my early mid-thirties, I’ve found that the stakes are a lot higher.

London is a place I had always dreamed of living. A smorgasbord of culture, history and diversity, where opportunities are endless

London is a place I had always dreamed of living. A smorgasbord of culture, history and diversity, where opportunities are endless. However I didn’t expect this move happening during a global pandemic.

Before London, I had spent eight happy years in Edinburgh, living a very comfortable and fulfilling life, but due to a series of unfortunate events triggered by the pandemic, I found myself at a loose end and in need of a change. It felt to me that lockdown seemed to sort people my age into two groups; those who had their act together and those who didn’t. I found myself to be in the latter group.

So when my friend, who is an assistant head teacher, offered me a part-time role at her primary school in Mitcham, south London, I jumped at the opportunity. Moving to London during a pandemic has not quite been the Dolly Alderton/Fleabag fantasy I had in mind, but the change of scene has done me the world of good.

Teaching in London is a completely new experience and I am enjoying having a mix of supply work and teaching my own class part-time. Working in different schools across the city has shown me a real cross-section of society. I have taught in independent schools where the children wear little Madeline-style purple hats and blazers and there are only 15 pupils in their class and in academies with over 900 children and exhausted and over-stretched staff.

Lynn Rusk in Edinburgh. Photograph Alejandro Basterrechea
Lynn Rusk in Edinburgh. Photograph Alejandro Basterrechea

Working across the city has also allowed me to gain an insight into the different communities that make up different parts of London. At my school in Mitcham, the children in my class are mostly Tamil, while at the academy in Croydon, the children are largely from London’s Afro-Caribbean community.

I have also found myself confronted with a lot of unfamiliar situations in the classroom that I have quickly had to learn to deal with. I am ashamed to admit how little experience I have in dealing with racism and the first time I heard a child call another class member a “monkey”, it really floored me. I realised how quickly I needed to learn the correct language to deal with situations like this in the future.

It was incredible to see how mature the children’s discussions were when confronting Britain’s troubled history and dealing with complicated topics such as slavery, racism and colonialism

On the other hand, I have been blown away by how much more forward thinking schools are here than in Edinburgh when it comes to teaching children about black history. In my school in Mitcham we did a whole school project on black women who changed Britain and I did a topic with my class on the history of the British Empire. It was incredible to see how mature the children’s discussions were when confronting Britain’s troubled history and dealing with complicated topics such as slavery, racism and colonialism.

Although I am supposed to be the teacher, every day has been a new learning experience for me.

Along with teaching, another new experience for me is returning to living with flatmates. Unlike in Edinburgh, where I had the luxury of being able to afford my own place, the price of renting and property in London is extortionate and the only affordable option for me was to live in a flatshare. Although it has been really nice to live with people again after spending most of the last lockdown living alone, the living situation is definitely a major factor in deciding whether I would like to settle in London.

In the best of times London is a difficult place to move to, let alone during a pandemic, but I am fortunate enough to have a good few friends down here already and this has been a great source of comfort to me. Also even during lockdown there are still so many outdoor spaces to visit and enjoy in the city.

Although most social groups and clubs have been closed over the past year, I have been lucky enough to meet lots of new people through volunteering. Before Christmas I got involved with the Refugee Community Kitchen, which serves food to people who need it in different locations across London. I now volunteer there every Saturday and it has been a blessing to have found such a wonderful and supportive community to be a part of.

I have also started volunteering at a local radio station called Riverside Radio, which covers news and events across south west London and have been lucky enough to meet interesting new friends and contacts there as well.

London is a city full of opportunities, you just need to know where to find them. Whether I plan to stay here for the long term, I haven’t quite decided, but I have been taking every day as it comes.

Like many people , the pandemic took a lot from me, but at least it didn’t diminish my sense of adventure.

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do

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