Posted in bloggers, family, Moving to London, relationships

Bad Dreams and Irrational Fears

Yesterday I had a long shift at work that eventually ended in me sprawled on the couch at 9pm trying to decide whether I’m more tired or hungry, and whether it was worth giving up being horizontal to prepare dinner. Needless to say, I wasn’t in the best of moods.

In the middle of all this, my mum FaceTimed me from the Philippines – as she usually does around that time. She gets up early every morning to go to church (every morning without fail! Now that is a woman who does not feel conflicted about her faith) and she makes a point of ringing my sister and I before she leaves. Maybe so she’ll know if anything’s come up in our lives that necessitates her praying for our eternal souls.

Anyway, I’m ashamed to say that I was too tired last night to bring myself to have a decent conversation with my mother. I was so self-absorbed and cranky that my dad eventually told her to just let me off the phone and rest because I seemed so tired.

I felt incredibly guilty after that. I mean, I so seldom see my parents because I live abroad and these phone calls are their only means of ensuring we stay connected. I’m very lucky that my mum makes an effort to call every day despite the 8 hour time difference; its gotten me through the worst of homesickness when I first got here and through tough times and seemingly insurmountable challenges. They made me feel supported and loved.

Of course my neurotic subconscious chose to express my guilt in the form of a nightmare where my mum was on a ship that had problems at sea and everyone on it has been now been declared missing and presumed dead. I woke up at 2am still in the grips of emotional upheaval and thinking that the last thing I ever said to my mother was that I was too tired to FaceTime her.

I of course rang her telling her about this nightmare and she laughed in my face and told me I was crazy. I probably AM but that’s beside the point. The point is I’ve always had this irrational fear about phone calls. I don’t like receiving missed calls because you never know who was trying to ring you and whether or not it was something catastrophic. Especially missed calls in the middle of the night. Or missed calls from work or your boss.

My mum once rang me in the middle of a working day (London time) and when she couldn’t get a hold of me proceeded to leave the most serious voicemail in the world asking me to call her back when I can. I thought someone in the family had died. It turned out she was just testing whether her new sim card for international calls worked. I nearly had a coronary. I told her never to do that again.

I also sometimes think about how life can suddenly throw curveballs at you. This may seem fatalistic but we never know when a certain conversation with someone we love may be our last. And if you think about it, we take so much for granted that we sometimes forget to even say ‘I love you’ at the end of a conversation with our parents or siblings or partners. This really gets to me, the fact that you never know. So you have to make the most out of it, out of every moment.

I guess what I’m just trying to remind myself is that you should never get to the point where you’re too busy to make time for the ones you love. You have to learn to prioritise, see the bigger picture and remember what’s important. In addition, just because it appears to be ordinary doesn’t mean its not important. Life is made up of small ordinary moments; its what you do with it and who you do it with that makes it extraordinary.

Now that I’ve done this little self-talk, I’m going to ring my mother again and hope I can now sleep better tonight. Lol

Cheers!

Posted in Careers, london, Moving to London, United Kingdom

Approved! 

Just a quick update to say that life has been hectic lately and I’m too emotionally and mentally spent to even contemplate writing a full-length blog. But for those who don’t already know, my indefinite leave to remain has been approved!

It was definitely an excruciating experience and an exercise in patience. For a second there, I really thought there was a real chance that I wouldn’t get the decision that I wanted. Seeing the letter and the word approved (they should really use big bold letters for that one word!) felt like a thorn has been pulled from my side and I drew my first easy breath in 8 hours (that’s how long I was at the home office).

What does this mean for me? Well, it means I basically earn the same rights as a citizen, although I still have to apply for the actual passport next year (and shell out another 2000 gbp). I can own a property, start a business, work anywhere if I don’t want to be a nurse. There’s no restrictions on my working hours, unlike when I was on a work permit when I can only work 20 hours a week extra on top of my contracted hours. I still need a visa if I want to travel this year because my passport is still Filipino, which is a pain because I honestly never want to go through the process of applying for any kind of visas ever again.

I guess what it means is that I can start thinking about building a life in the UK. For better or worse, this is my home now. And that mental shift has had unexpected results and have led to surprising decisions on my part. But I think when you’re young, its easier to take risks. And you take that risk because you don’t want to look back in the future and ask yourself ‘what if?’. I think the only truly bad experience is the lack of experience itself. 

Thank you to everyone who helped me out with this process, to the people who kept me calm when I was nearly in hysterics and to the people who were the first to celebrate with me. More celebrations to come later! 

Posted in london, Moving to London, United Kingdom

I Know I’m Extremely Anxious When…

As I write this, I am in the waiting room of the UK Home Office, waiting to hear my number come up so that I can submit my settlement application (Indefinite Leave to Remain). 

Visa applications always make me extremely anxious. My paranoid brain just goes into overdrive and cooks up a whole number of things that could possibly go wrong. Its funny, I’m normally a glass half full kind of person but not when it comes to things like these.

As visas go, this is probably the most important one I’ll ever apply for; its the penultimate step before I can obtain that long-awaited British passport. I’ve also paid 3000 hard-earned pounds for it. So its understandable to be anxious under these circumstances, but I think I have just taken anxiety to the next level. I really need to calm myself down and I thought writing a blog about how anxious I am would help (try to see the logic in this dear readers!).

So I’m passing the time by making a list of how I know I am beyond anxious and bordering on panic right now:

  1. I have no appetite whatsoever – for a girl who loves to eat, this is a bloody big deal. I can’t even think about food without wanting to vomit.
  2. Music doesn’t soothe savage beast- I’ve tried listening to my Good Mood playlist on Spotify, which usually works. But not today, today I am beyond the reach of Shake It Off and Mr. Brightside. Maybe some Black Parade will help?
  3. I cannot concentrate on what I’m reading. Honestly, I bought a book and my kindle to while away the time but every time I start reading my mind goes into all the possible worst-case-scenarios that could befall me and I just lose interest in Clarissa Fray and the rest of the Shadow Hunters.
  4. I break out in sweat. The weather has turned in London and its now the season of coats once again but I have been sweating buckets since I got off East Croydon station. Seriously.
  5. Little things start to annoy me. Like the fact that the application centre has to be all the way in freakin’ Croydon, or the Mary Sue-ness of the book character whose story I’m attempting to read (the tv series version is infinitely better!). Or the buzz of the people waiting in this room with me.
  6. I feel teary. And emotional. Like I’m likely to break out in tears any minute now.

I am almost certain that things will be fine and I will laugh about this in about 5 hours. But at this moment in time I am nothing if not a bundle of nerves. Watch this space guys, I will update you on my journey later on in the day. Wish me luck! 

Posted in Careers, friendship, Moving to London, Travel, United Kingdom

The Payoff: Why I’m Proud to be a One-Time Clinical Instructor

Teaching is in my blood.

I come from a whole family of teachers, spanning maybe two generations. As a kid, I used to earn my allowance by tutoring my younger brother and sister. I very nearly went insane in the process but it has prepared me for my future as an educator. Believe me, teaching your own sibling is an experience you don’t want to have in perpetuity (haha, Game of Thrones reference).

My father didn’t want me to be a teacher because he thought I would have more of a future as a nurse. At the time, there were not a lot of job opportunities in the Philippines and everyone was desperate to get out of the country. Nursing was a one-way ticket to a better life. Ironically, when I started studying nursing the demand for nurses internationally started to decline; there was a recession in the US and the UK and not a lot of countries were hiring out. But that was okay, because I knew as soon as I graduated that I wanted to be a clinical instructor in my alma mater and train future nurses.

My two years as a clinical instructor were some of the best and worst years of my life. I started out as this wide-eyed, dreamy and idealistic teacher fresh from uni and with all cylinders firing. I wanted to not just teach students, but to inspire them as well. I wanted to make an impact. I wanted to be that one teacher they’ll remember for the rest of their life. 

You know what they say about good intentions and the roads they pave.

Not that being a clinical instructor was hell. But. Reality sort of got through after a while and I realised that the job was way more difficult than I thought it would be. I especially had a hard time balancing between going the extra mile and getting too close to the students. I may also have disagreed with some of my more senior colleagues about our role in our students’ lives. I believed (and still believe) that it was possible to stay impartial and objective without being detached. I think that extra touch of the personal is what makes a student-teacher relationship special. I have gotten into a lot of trouble for clinging to that belief. But I had hell of a good time because of it.

In my first year as a clinical instructor, I threw everything I had into teaching. I was organised, I gave every student individual feedback, I listened to their problems, both academic and when they wanted support about the more personal aspects. I got creative and looked for ways to make learning fun. I still remember organising an Amazing Race-like activity around the campus at the end of every rotation. I think I may have also built a reputation for being really strict, which I never intended but turned out to work really well for me. I think a little dose of fear is healthy. But I didn’t want the students to do the work because they feared me, I wanted them to do it because they see value in doing it.

I supported extra-curricular activities with gusto. I may not know much about playing basketball, but I love the sport and I was there for every game. I cheered every win and commiserated with the team for each loss. I also knew that the best way to get over a loss was to eat and drink so I used to buy food for the team, so much that some of the boys still message me to this day to ask for pochero because that’s what we used to have when we ate out. 

I think that first year was awesome. I look back on it now and I’m grateful. I wouldn’t do anything differently even though some people are of the opinion that I got too close. Maybe I did. Maybe I was too young to be a clinical instructor. I was mentoring students who were only 2 or 3 years younger than me, its kinda hard to be an authority figure with that narrow an age gap. I think the lines were a bit blurred because of that, and with others the lines were more blurred because of natural chemistry. I think that there are people in your life that you will just naturally get along with and gravitate more towards. Some of the students were my friends. However, because they were my friends, I worked even harder to stay impartial within the context of our professional relationship. 

I think its a huge leap from being friendly with students to assuming that I would compromise my integrity for them. 

In my last year as a clinical instructor, I was unfairly accused of leaking exam questions to a group of students. I have never spoken openly about how upset I was about this but I do so now just to get it off my chest completely. I WOULD NEVER DO SUCH A THING. It goes against every principle I have in life. Teaching is my passion, and I cannot teach without integrity. Why should I work so hard to teach students if I’m going to give them the easy way out anyway? If I did that, I would be cheating them and selling them short because it means I have no faith in their ability to pass an exam. I don’t think those who used my name so carelessly to cover their mistake or those who were so quick to judge me ever realised how close they came to snuffing out that spark, that love I had for teaching.

But I refused to let them defeat me. 

I still don’t know who leaked the exam. There were other clinical instructors accused with me but I got the full force because of the kind of relationship I had with the students. In hindsight, maybe I was guilty. Guilty of not setting more boundaries and protecting myself from accusations like that. I learned that lesson the hard way. 

Still its hard to regret the choices I made when I have so many students who tell me how much of an impact I’ve made in their lives. I can’t bring myself to be overly bitter about that experience because its made me stronger; and it was ultimately the catalyst that led me to London. 

And I’m happy that I never gave up. Because I would have missed out on the payoff. The payoff is seeing your babies graduate; the payoff is seeing them all become nurses in their own right. The payoff is seeing how successful they’ve become and reuniting with them halfway round the world from where we came from and having drinks by the river Thames. 

Batch 2011. My first students and first babies. You’re not supposed to have favourites, but what the hell. This batch is definitely mine. 🙂

Batch 2013. My other favourite and the ones that supported me the most when shit hit the fan because they were loyal to me and to my sister. 😘
Well done to us, Sir Jo! Hahahah

With Marj the New Yorker on her first visit to London. First of many! Haha
With Rayann, New Yorker number two! 😘

I am so incredibly proud of the work we’ve done with these students. They’ve turned out better than we could have expected and Joseph, I think we should give ourselves a pat in the back, partner. Job well done.

Kudos, Velez College – College of Nursing UK Chapter. 😘

Posted in Moving to London

I See London, I see Sam’s Town Part 2

I’ve got this energy beneath my feet, like something underground’s gonna come up and carry me…

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

There are few things more important to a Londoner than the tube map. Nothing is more important to a working Londoner than the tube, the local name for the Underground system ran by TFL. I remember one time there was a tube strike because the train drivers wanted higher wages, and it completely disrupted the city’s way of life. In the hospital where I work, cases were delayed because both patients and nurses couldn’t get to work. The buses were so crammed that if, like me, you’re just barely over 5 feet you were basically standing under somebody’s armpit. And that’s only if you were fortunate enough to get on a bus at all. It was one of those times that I felt extremely lucky that my flat was at a walking distance from work. It really got me thinking about a) how much Londoners depend on a working tube system; and b) the close relationship between the tube and the choice of where to live. 

Deciding where to rent in London is a really big and often difficult decision, especially if you’re new to the city. You don’t have enough information to know better and I think everyone’s first London flat always has that tinge of desperation on it, like we settled for the first available house or flat that would have us, even it means sharing a room with another person and losing all privacy. You learn from every experience though. God know I have, and I think I’ve come a long way from Mount Pleasant Road, where I had to constantly look over my shoulder when I come home at night to make sure I wasn’t being followed. Now, because I don’t want any of my potential followers to go through the same experience, I thought I’d share some tips on looking for accommodations in London.

Have a budget and stick to it.

This comes first for me because London is an expensive city. All those stories about astronomical flat prices are not exaggerations. If you’re not smart, you could end up paying half your salary for what is basically a double room in a tiny flat that is an hour’s commute from work. Figure out how much you are willing to and can afford to pay and work around that when looking for flats.

Have a selection criteria

I am not suggesting that you have to make some obsessive-compulsive checklist, but I do suggest that you have a mental checklist about the things that are important to you when it comes to living conditions, and highlight which ones you refuse to compromise on. For example, I will gladly pay a little extra money to know that I live in more or less a safe neighbourhood. You cannot pay me to live in Peckham. I’m sure its a perfectly fine area but I went there once I just got bad vibes. Which leads me to my next point:

Do a preliminary visit

In most cases, you will have a viewing before you decide to rent a house or flat, and i think this is a really great idea. No only does it allow you to check out the house, you also get a chance to have a feel of the neighbourhood. Sometimes decisions can be based on the most mundane of things, like that quirky cafe a few blocks over your flat that you can just picture yourself reading a book in or that park that you can see yourself running in. I personally like the hustle and bustle of the city, and I feel at home anywhere there are lots of people. I guess its the kind of security that comes from knowing that you’re never really alone. Doing a visit also gives you the chance to check out what the transport is like to and from your prospective address. Do you have decent access to a bus stop? What is your nearest tube station, if you have one? These are all important questions to consider.

Commuting

As I said, commuting comes part and parcel with working in London. You really want access to a tube station, and more to the point, you want to be on a line that provides the most direct route to work. I know it’s sad to plan your life around work, but let’s face it. On average you will be spending 37.5 hours a week at work, why add commuting time to the time you’re already losing to work??? I’ve always said I will gladly pay an extra 100£ for an extra 15 minutes of sleep in the morning. In an ideal world, you want your flat to be on the same line as the nearest tube station to the place where you work and still be affordable. Here’s why that wouldn’t necessarily work.

London is divided into Zones. I work in Warren Street, right in the heart of central London, which comprises the whole of Zone 1. If the map below, which shows the average cost of renting a one-bedroom flat on each of the tube stops, is accurate then I would have to be living as far as Edgware or High Barnet (Zone 6), which is probably an hour’s tube ride away at least, to be able to afford rent. And even then its equal to nearly half of my monthly salary.

Attachment-1
Click here to enlarge view: Rent map

This map basically tells you really can’t afford to rent a one-bedroom flat on a nurse’s salary. If you attempt to do so, you’ll basically be spending all that money on a flat you don’t get to enjoy because you’re working overtime shifts to be able to pay for said flat.  Most people opt to flatshare. And you can look for those on sites such as Gumtree, or Spareroom.  

There are also other options available for key workers such as nurses and teachers. We get what they call intermediate rent price, which is a lower price compared to what someone who’s not a keyworker would pay. Housing associations that offer intermediate renting include Catalyst Housing and Genesis Housing Association. Generally, you have to fill in an application form and wait for it to be approved or your employer may have arranged this for you before you even arrive. I’ve lived on flats provided by both of those associations. the latter being the official provider of accommodation for those who work for our hospital. And let me tell you, there are definite pros and cons

The highs and lows of living in a housing association

As the header of this post suggests, its all about location, location, location. There’s really no faulting the location of the buildings owned by housing associations. Most of them are in central London or if not, an easy commute away. On average, it probably took me 25 minutes via bus to get to work when I was living at Ashgrove Court (Catalyst). It took me 10 minutes to walk to work when I was living at John Astor House (Genesis). Both locations were really central. Ashgrove Court is a short bus ride away from Notting Hill and the famous Portobello Market. John Astor House is close to the famous shopping areas of Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road.

However – and the same is true for flatshares as well – having a flatmate that you get on with depends mostly on the luck of the draw. I once had a flatmate who had some kind of light that she shines over the kitchen surfaces so she’ll know whether I’ve cleaned it properly or not. We also had washing facilities inside our room, and as her room was next to mine she claimed that she can hear the drip of the faucet whenever I failed to close it as tight as I should. Seriously, this person threatened to report me to the council for singing along to the songs on my iPod because this was apparently not allowed after 10pm. Jesus. Its a funny anecdote now, but back then I had only been living in London less than a year and I didn’t realise I was being bullied in my own flat until much later.

John Astor House took the meaning of cramped to an all new level. I never really understood the term “matchbox-sized room” until I moved there. But I thought, you know, this is probably better for me because JHA was more of a dormitory than flat. You don’t really have a “flatmate” and after living with a psychotic one for about 2 years, this was a huge draw for me. JHA also had cleaners who were responsible for cleaning common areas. What I failed to realise is that the cleaners were off on the weekends, and that I would be smelling how good other people’s Friday night went whenever I have to go to the toilets on Saturday. The toilets, like the kitchen, are shared by at least 10 people maybe more. Boy was it interesting to take a leak in those toilets come weekend. Do not let me get started on having to wait to take a shower that is shared by more than 10 people, some of whom take forever to have a bath. I wake up some nights to people either running screaming down the hallways or “unmentionable” noises in the room next to me as other people…”get to know each other” if you know what I mean.

Reality Check

Unfortunately, if – like me- you’ve been hired as a nurse in one of the hospitals and you don’t know anyone in London, chances are your first flat would be in one of these accommodations. Its the easiest choice, I suppose. In these accommodations, the rent you pay per month includes bills and council tax. You don’t have to worry about setting up all kinds of payments, which is a huge help during the first few months when you’re still settling. Its not that bad. You get to meet a whole lot of people from different walks of life and you get to meet people who may have been in the same position as you 6 months earlier who can give you the benefit of their experience. You get to have some kind of support system in these accommodations because everyone there more or less knows what you’re going through as a London newbie because they’ve all been a newbie at some point. Some of the things that people have done for those who are new to London just restores your faith in humanity. Some of them buy cookware for you, or give you some of their secondhand stuff for free. They cook you welcome dinners in the common kitchen, show you around London and do what they can so you feel just a little less lonely. I was lucky because whilst my first London flat was not an accommodation and left much to be desired, I already had lots of friends here who gave me the support I needed.

Moving On

If you do decide you’ve had enough of accommodations, you can try your hand at looking for a flat of your own. Maybe you decide its worth paying the hefty price for the sake of comfort and privacy. Its up to you. The important thing is to plan ahead, consider different options and to move only if you’re absolutely sure its right for you. Moving flats is a huge undertaking and requires a lot of organisation, you do not want to do it again and again and again. Believe me, I’ve moved flats three or four times and it amazed me how much stuff I’ve managed to accumulate in all the years I’ve lived in London. In addition, two or three bedroom flats are probably cheaper than one bedroom flats so be on the lookout for potential flatmates.

For those working in and around central London, there are ways that you can get affordable flats. That’s what I did, because let’s face it, without the benefit of key worker discounts there is no way I’ll ever be able to afford a flat in Soho. Visit Peabody Housing or Dolphin Living for more details and a list of areas where developments are being built. You’ll probably have to be living in London for at least 18 months to qualify for these though, so if you know someone who’s been here a while who might be a good potential flatmate, maybe you can lure them into moving with you so that you can ride on their coattails. This what I did for my sister. I applied for both of us because I had been living here longer and was therefore eligible for the scheme.

I hope this helped. Either way, don’t get too worried about accommodation. These things have a way of falling into place in a way that you don’t expect. Enjoy the experience of being here. Welcome to London, newbie!