Out and About is the column in which we talk to people who nowadays live abroad, or who had been living and working abroad. This week we talk to Liezl Brynard, who lives in Dorset, England.
Tell us more about yourself and your family and where you live.
We are a family of three and we live in Dorset. We lived in London for four years but decided to move so we could have more space. London’s rent is incredibly expensive. Here we are only 10 minutes’ walk from the most beautiful forest and our village is surrounded by farms. We are also just 30 minutes from one of England’s few sandy beaches. The beaches here are mostly rocky.
You have experienced an interesting emigration journey. Tell us more.
My husband and I (at that point my boyfriend) desperately wanted to go overseas and started our adventure in early 2005. We planned to come to England for three months, as my husband knew someone here. We wanted to improve our English and save some money before leaving for Hong Kong. However, the latter never happened because we didn’t realise how expensive England (especially London) is. We had to think twice before buying anything!
My husband soon landed a job, but I struggled. We got married in 2006 and our daughter was born in 2012. Since childcare is so expensive here, most moms don’t go back to work after maternity leave. We decided to move back to South Africa after my year of maternity leave so that we could be close to the family and for my daughter to grow up near her grandparents. We shipped our whole house and car to South Africa, and I greeted England for the last time. Fortunately, my husband was still able to work for the same business from home in South Africa.
After two years, the business unfortunately decided to close that branch, and our options were for him to be fired or to return to England, where he would be promoted. After many tears, we decided to come back. We landed at Heathrow with just six suitcases. My daughter (then 3) could not speak a word of English, but soon found her feet and is now completely comfortable with English and Afrikaans. We only speak Afrikaans at home.
Did you learn any lessons from emigration?
One must have a lot of grit and be very adaptable because things don’t always work out as planned. Such a big step can make or break a relationship. Luckily, ours grew much stronger.
What do you miss most about South Africa?
Wow, where will I start? The weather, the friendly people, the food (especially the meat and fresh fruit from the farm), our family, the sea!
What is the best and worst of England?
The best is definitely the opportunity to visit Europe over weekends. We’ve visited many places, but the best so far was Madeira and Italy. I also love the long summer days when the sun rises at 05:00 and only sets after 21:00. England has many beautiful landscapes; the Lake District, for example, is beautiful! The old buildings and castles are an enriching experience.
The worst is that children must start school so young – in the year they turn five. Our school year lasts from September to July. Luckily, my daughter’s birthday is in October, so she’s one of the older kids in her class, but some of her friends only have birthdays in August, so they’re four years old all year. My daughter does not like to wear shoes, and here they must wear shoes all day. We struggle with the darkness in December. The sun only rises after 07:00 and by 16:00 it is dark again.
What does your support system look like there? Was it easy to make friends and become part of the community?
It’s really hard to make friends here. Most of our friends are South Africans. The British are very private people. You can’t just show up at their house; you have to call in advance. We made more friends when my daughter started school, but we have now moved again and because of the lockdown, no one is allowed to visit anyone, so we have not really made friends where we live now. I hope we will meet more people this summer. The people outside the big cities are much friendlier than in the city itself. I still find it strange that I sat next to the same guy on the train on my way to work for five years, and he never spoke to me once. I’m sure in South Africa, we would have talked the hind leg off a donkey after the first week!
To what extent did COVID impact your lives?
We were on our way to South Africa for a three-week visit when the South African borders were closed. It was a huge disappointment for us! When we decided to come back here, we assured everybody that we would visit every year and that we could always be in South Africa within 24 hours in case of emergency. Little did we know that a year later, we would still not be able to fly to South Africa. Our first lockdown was strict, but we could still go out once a day to exercise and we had nice weather. We also had fun exercising with Joe Wicks on YouTube every morning and camped out in the garden.
My husband and I both work from home, and with the schools closed from March to September 2020, it was very challenging to help our daughter with her schoolwork, do our own work and run the house. It puts a lot of pressure on your relationships and you can’t get away from each other even for a while. The schools were closed again from January to 15 March 2021. And now the 19-day Easter holidays lie ahead! Before the lockdown, I was not even aware of platforms like Zoom and Google Classroom! While South Africa was in lockdown, our family did a Kahoot quiz on Zoom every Saturday and just had a great time!
We last saw friends in October 2020, and due to stricter rules in December, it was our first Christmas all by ourselves. Thanks to technology, we could at least Zoom with our family and open presents together!
At least our rules are getting better. As of today, we may see six people in our garden, and we may also drive to different parts; we may, for example, visit London again. We are really looking forward to meeting with our friends again!
Would you like to add anything else?
Long ago, I read on a sugar packet: “Life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans.” Things don’t always work out the way we planned them to, but they always work out the way they should. You can’t always control everything, so enjoy the moment and don’t worry too much about the future!
Do you live abroad, or have you recently returned to South Africa? We want to hear from you. Please send us an email to email@example.com.