Expat life in the UK between the Brexit and the pandemic

Expat of the month
  • Italian expat in the UK
Published on 2022-02-11 at 10:00 by Veedushi
Angelica is originally from Verbania, Italy. It's been nearly ten years since she moved to the UK, hungry for independence and new experiences. She has also spent a year in Germany for her studies before going back to the UK and is currently in the process of obtaining British citizenship. She talks to us about living in London as an expat between Brexit and the Covid pandemic.

Can you please introduce yourself to our readers?

I am Angelica, and I come from a beautiful town called Verbania in Northern Italy on the shore of Lake Maggiore. I spent my childhood and teenage years in Verbania with my parents and sister until I decided to move to the UK when I was 18 (in September 2022, it will be the tenth anniversary of my move abroad!). My sister is five years younger than me and also moved to the UK a few years after I did. We now both live in London, and I have recently started working in the supply chain for a business importing exotic vegetables into the UK and selling them to the main retail chains.

What made you want to leave Italy?

Initially, what made me want to leave Italy was my hunger for independence and new experiences. Verbania is a relatively small place where most people know each other, and I wanted to meet new people and be exposed to new exciting opportunities. But unfortunately, Italy is also known as one of the EU countries with the highest youth unemployment (currently about 27%) and a stagnating economy. This is why many ambitious young people like myself go elsewhere to try and pursue their dreams.

What brought you to the UK?

The UK seemed like the obvious choice as English was the language I felt most comfortable with, and England is only a short flight away from home, so, although I was moving away, I felt like I had the option to see my family any time. When I told my parents I wanted to go to the university in the UK, they were very supportive and even came with me to visit a few universities. Eventually, I figured out I was not ready to go to university straight after moving, so I spent a year in Cambridge living with a local family and attending a foundation programme for international students where my language skills improved massively, and I was given all the tools I needed to obtain a place at the university I ended up choosing, which was the University of Bath. I made so many friends from all over the world during my year in Cambridge and have such fond memories of it!

What are the main challenges of being an Italian expat, especially in the UK? How did you overcome them?

I think the main challenges come with a lack of a support system, resulting in a feeling of loneliness and discouragement. When I moved to the UK, I had no family or friends in this country. My English was quite basic, so I naturally gravitated towards Italian people and was mostly socialising with them to feel more comfortable. As time passed, I started gaining confidence and making more effort to integrate and network with locals. The people I've met in the UK have all been so welcoming and curious to know about me and my story and never made me feel like an outsider. I now have friends from all over the world (in 2019, I even went to Hong Kong to visit some of them!) and a British boyfriend. I feel completely at home.

Did the Brexit have an impact on your expat life in the UK?

When the Brexit referendum happened, I had already been in the UK for four years and was almost eligible for an indefinite leave to remain. However, I spent a year in Germany due to my studies, so I had to wait a bit longer and finally obtained settled status in 2020, which means I now have the right to live, work and remain indefinitely in the UK. I am also currently applying for UK citizenship, which will make me "officially" British. For this reason, Brexit did not impact my life on a personal level. However, working in the supply chain, I am inevitably facing the challenges of a reduced workforce and increased border controls.

What about the pandemic? How did it affect your professional and social lives? What are the current restrictions in place?

My parents were in London when Italy was first put into lockdown. Luckily, they managed to fly back! Shortly after that, the UK also went into lockdown, and I was furloughed, so I decided to go back to Italy and ended up spending four months there. So all in all, I consider myself lucky as I spent four months with my family, found a new job and moved to London all during a pandemic! Currently, I have been working from home for a while but am gradually returning to the office (3 days a week) - I am glad I finally get to socialise with my colleagues as for the first few months in this job I wasn't able to meet most of them, and now I enjoy office conversations and after-work drinks although I can also say working from home saves a lot of time and money, so a mix of both is definitely the way forward.

What are your views on how the UK is dealing with the pandemic?

Currently, restrictions in the UK are slowly being eased, masks are no longer compulsory, and social distancing is seldom respected. On one side, I appreciated how the UK helped workers with the furlough scheme. But on the other side whenever I go to Italy, I can observe how restrictions are a lot more serious there (masks compulsory almost everywhere, full vaccination compulsory to enter public places, etc.) and I think in this instance the UK should take Italy as an example.

Unfortunately, the pandemic is now a new reality we have to live with. I think we cannot pretend everything is back to normal as this will only cause the infection rate to spike and put people and businesses even more at risk.

How is the London labour market currently? Are there opportunities for expatriates?

I can only speak from experience, but I have never had any issue finding a job and have never been unemployed since I moved to the UK. My friends and people I went to university with also have good jobs. I do realise I was fortunate that I had a very supportive family that gave me everything I needed to focus on my studies and attend a good university. Still, I also think that people searching for opportunities will definitely find them in the UK, which is why so many Italians decided to move here.

What is one thing that you miss the most from your home country?

Definitely my friends and family - most of my childhood friends still live in Verbania and, even though we don't talk every day, I always love to see them when I go back home. My parents also live in Verbania, and they come to London whenever they can, but I try to go back at least once every three months, so luckily, I am in Italy quite often. One thing I also miss is the lifestyle that I find a lot more relaxed in Italy compared to London. Every time I go back, I love to meet friends for coffee or aperitivo, and they all always have time for me.

How does life in the UK compare to Germany?

I have found life in Germany very different from the UK, both in a good and bad way. I would say work-life balance in Germany is great, and it seems that employers care about employees taking care of themselves, so generally, I haven't encountered many stressed workers. On the other hand, I somehow found it a lot harder to integrate in Germany (probably also because I didn't speak German as well as I speak English) - and it seemed that the expat community was more separated from the rest of the population. In terms of work opportunities, Germany also offers plenty. It only took me three weeks to find an internship!

If you had to move from Italy all over again, is there anything you would have done differently?

When I moved, I was full of ideas and preconceptions about UK food, fashion, etc. (Italians can be quite picky with certain things!), so probably I would just not be as judgemental, and I would just try everything and make the most of the differences and new ways of living rather than clinging to my culture.

What are your plans for the future?

I have now moved to London just over a year ago (I have lived in many different parts of the UK previously), I have started a new job that I love and have found a great flat to live in with my boyfriend. For now, I want to enjoy this new chapter in my life, grow in my career and do as much travelling as I can (visiting Portugal and Spain in the next couple of months!).

Is there any advice you would like to give anyone who would like to move to the UK, especially from the EU?

I think the best thing to do when moving to a new country is to try and speak to as many locals as possible to learn about the culture, sayings etc. as you will never feel at home if you only socialise with people from your home country. Workwise, do not feel like any opportunity you are given is below you (independently from your studies and degree). My first job after university was in a food factory! The UK is a land full of opportunities, but only if you go for them.