Cologne university, 1992, it was my final exam of English.
“So, what do you want to do after your studies?” was the last question my lecturer asked me.
“I want to live in England”, I replied, proudly.
“That is not a job”, she uttered, disapprovingly.
“I know. I’d do anything to live there though. Work in a supermarket, a book shop – who knows …”, I said.
Weeks later, I sat on the ferry to Hull. My small Nissan Micra, filled to the brim with books, clothes and bits of small, cheap furniture was parked on the car deck. It really was the happiest day of my life!
I did a PGCE at York university and soon after got a job as a language teacher. They were such happy, passionate, exciting years! It was Harry Potter time and I worked in a market town whose train station, with its famous steam engines, became part of the film set. Many of my students were cast as extras, which is why Harry Potter films still fill me with a strong sentimental feeling.
Teaching fit me like a glove: Modern foreign languages had been made compulsory at secondary schools and my enthusiasm was contagious. More and more kids opted for German at A-level at my school. I organized language exchanges and laughed at English children pulling a face at ‘Schwarzbrot’ whilst German kids cringed at the thought of vinegar on chips. Friendships were formed and prejudices dismantled. I celebrated the 10th anniversary of German “Wiedervereinigung’ with my English colleagues and we sat and cried together as we watched the fall of the twin towers.
I adopted the most amazing lurcher from the local RSPCA and, I am proud to mention, he too featured in a movie, set in the coastal town of Scarborough. I bought a Victorian B&B, got married to a folk musician, danced at Ceileidh’s, won many pub quizzes and even became quite good at playing skittles. But it was not all plain sailing: We divorced and I developed cancer. Still: not in a million years had I imagined leaving my friends and this beautiful island, which was, that much was clear to me and anyone who knew me by then, the one true love of my life.
In 2004, my mum died and I took the very rational decision to move closer to my dad. I was adamant that my move was not permanent!! It was only meant to be for a short period. So I rented out my B&B and was hopeful that a job would be waiting for me when I was ready to return.
However, that never happened. Instead, life happened. I never had a plan for life, other than living in the UK. The tenants of my B&B let me down badly and the estate agent advised me to count my losses and sell up, which I did.
After drifting, I ended up settling in a country half way between my head and my heart: The Netherlands. There, for many years, I mourned, missed and regretted leaving the country that had so deeply touched my soul, that resonated with me in just every way.
In the meantime, I had found a wonderful job here and had started a beautiful relationship with a fellow anglophile. There were many talks about moving back to ‘God’s own country’, we dreamed about running a campsite together or maybe a small hotel.
Waiting for this opportunity, I became P&O’s best paying customer. Whenever my job and funds allowed, I hopped onto a ferry. I kept (still do) a purse with a large sum of pounds in my house, my National trust membership card, Oyster cards etc
You could say I left it too long. After all, on the day of the referendum result, ten years had gone by. To my great surprise though, I felt a sense of relief: “If I was still living there now, it surely would have killed me”, I said to my partner, and he took my hand and nodded. He knew exactly what I meant.
Watching the madness unfold, I felt a massive sense of rejection. I took the result personally and went through all the phases of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression. After 5 years, I hopefully have entered the final phase: acceptance. This summer I will find out, as we will re-visit Yorkshire. I admit, I am slightly nervous at the prospect: how will I find my beloved country? Will I be welcome?
Noa Lef, 58, Dutch, back in the Netherlands since 2006
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