It’s been a while, but I’m back on the road and back on the blog. The move has been made. The clothes have been folded into drawers and hung in closets and on backs of doors. The blinds have been drawn back to reveal a new view from brand windows: the horizon of Hastings on England’s Southeast coast.
I’d like to say that the flight was fine and the arrival was smooth, but alas that is not the happy news I have to relay. What with the Paris attack so near, a new conservative government in charge, and the general tightening up of security on an international scale, I barely even made it into the country.
I had many worries in coming over. Namely: would I have enough money? Also that at this particular point in my life I’m really struggling to find an entering point to my career – mostly because I don’t know what career I’m aiming for because nothing in my skillset seems to equate earning enough money to live off of. I nearly snagged the dream position of social media manager for budget-travel-blogger king Nomadic Matt, but alas! It was not meant to be.
I’ve decided to fill my unemployed time in Hastings with a writing project and generally seeing things on the cheap while experiencing Ricky’s hometown in the way he was able to experience mine (that is to say, mostly through the room at his dad’s house where we’re living). My savings aren’t much – especially considering the recent plummet of the Canadian looney compared to the English pound – but it’s enough to get me by until my Austrian citizenship comes through and I have the right to work.
According to immigration, this is a fairly suspicious circumstance under which to enter into the UK. The reasoning they gave me also hit right in the sweet spots.
But from the beginning.
Upon arriving, Ricky went through the UK/EU passport line while I waited in the international one. To be fair, I must have looked fairly like a bum after the three flights and 15+ hours of travel, but they immediately took a dislike to me and my “story” for wanting entry. I was detained without being told why and subsequently had my luggage checked (at least that which had arrived as some of it went missing for a few days), and waited for questioning in a segregated area while trying not to seem too nervous.
Ultimately it seemed the problem was in several things:
1) I had many suspicious circumstantial things count against me such as Ricky and I didn’t go through together, he then waited apart from where I was going through by about 50 feet (but one would assume it would be suspicious if he got too close, no?), and we had answered different dates as to when we’d met (okay I get the issue here, but I had specified that our first meeting was fairly inconsequential and that we had only really got to know each other/started dating during the time he said we’d first met – a distinction they chose to ignore/be deaf to).
2) I didn’t have enough money. I wrote that I was planning to stay for 5 months as I figured I’d be honest and put about the maximum before my Austrian citizenship came through and I left to validate that. When asked what I’d do while here I said mostly stay at home, but added, also in the interest of honesty that I’d like to travel around to different cities in the UK and if funds permitted see my family in Austria though it was unlikely. What they seemed to hear was “spend all my money on travel and then be broke enough that I’ll then have no choice but to work illegally so I can stay the full five months”. They did not seem to hear my repeated explanation that if funds became too tight, I would go home. Leading to…
3) I had no return ticket. Again, I see how this is suspicious and I actually fully sympathize with their point of view. It’s somewhat exasperating, however, to try and explain that the reason you hadn’t bought one is because you didn’t know when you would need it for. As most tickets aren’t refundable it’s a big commitment to make if you know you’re in a financial situation wherein you need to leave a few weeks or months earlier than planned, like when I was in Australia and went through the huge hassle of trying to move my ticket forward a month in advance. But again, unfortunately for me this just added up as a black mark against me, concluding with:
4) I have no career. Yes. This was a reason I was given, though it was also expanded upon to “I have nothing tying me back home to Canada”. It’s futile to explain that having just come back from employment in Korea for 2 years means automatically that I have less ties to my homeland, and also meaningless to mention that I had indeed been employed in Canada up until the day before arriving. And apparently being an ESL teacher isn’t a career even though I explicitly stated it was the intention of my boyfriend and I to move to Vietnam when he’s done his teaching certification to continue that job path (at least part time tutoring until I find a financially stable enough job there in editing or writing).
After much chiding and lecturing about my life choices, I was then put in a waiting area until the main officer with her crony-in-training, who would occasionally shoot angry suspicious accusations at me through a constant frown, came to sit with me and speak “candidly” while she waited for my “confession”.
The only thing I could think of that I’d done wrong was not mention my application for Austrian citizenship, simply because it never came up and I didn’t think at this point of entry it was necessary to mention due to not knowing when it would come through. As this was the case, it was initially backlogged in my brain as irrelevant until it was so far along in the interview process that bringing it up then would seem like I’d been hiding it.
So when she said that I was to speak candidly with her I brought it up seeing as it was the only thing left I thought she might be finding suspicious. She jumped on it as if it had been the nugget she’d been excavating for the whole time, stating she’d known as soon as I opened my mouth that I was hiding something (I really don’t know why or how, she never said), and promptly told me I’d been really stupid and a “very silly girl” (thanks for the condescension, border control – I’m woman enough to be considered a felon for not having a career, but in the end just an air-headed little girl you can legally harass for your statistics report). She said what should be happening to me is that I’d be put in isolation and interrogated by her superiors for several more hours while having my fingerprints taken, but she’d discuss with them to see the next action to be taken.
I waited some more and finally she came back. I’d be let in on a coded entry – a six month pass that would be monitored and after which I’d need to leave…which was the idea anyway, but you know. She continued to chide me and lecture me on not having a career (but what 25 year old does these days?!) and on my lacklustre financial situation. My savings, she estimated, which would last me 3 months, at which point she wanted me out, regardless of my six month right to be in country. She then let me go with that threat, feeling totally humilated and entirely disheveled.
I’d like to say that despite not having slept in over 24 hours and having been shaken like a tree for hours until all the fruits of my identity dropped for her examination, I managed to hold myself together pretty well during the process. But I did nearly lose it upon seeing Ricky again. I felt so ashamed and unworthy to be in this country that at that point I almost would have volunteered to get on a plane straight back home. (I still get the feeling sometimes that news anchors or harmless poster ads are staring at me as if to say, “We don’t want you here!!” …but happily that paranoia is fading).
I had to pull myself together though to go through the arrivals gate because I didn’t want the first impression I gave to Ricky’s family to be one of being a blubbering wimp. I already felt so embarrassed from essentially being called a slacker and freeloader by the immigration lady that my confidence in meeting my boyfriend’s relatives as a worthy and competent partner was shot. Thankfully they gave the warmest welcome I could have hoped for and soon I was nodding off to sleep in the back of the car on the winding country roads to Hastings.
I’m happy to say that since the horrible immigration process, things have taken a dramatic upturn. I’ve been having the best time and am loving the UK so far in the same way I fell in love with Vietnam: easily, and as if I’ve spent my whole life here already.
The last year and a half has been a dark period of my life, and if I’m honest, my time in Canada was hardly better mentally and emotionally speaking than Korea. I still carried a lot of the demons from abroad with me. I worked on them bit by bit but in all it was overwhelming and exhausting. Certainly not a quick fix.
But even though it’s still not perfect, I finally feel like I’m just about out of the woods.
I’m stressed about my position in the UK, what with the immigration horrors, but at least I feel better prepared with how to approach them next time – and am equipped with the knowledge of what seems suspicious to them.
What I’ve learned:
1. Go through with your partner/travel companions.
2. Have your travel companion close by if you don’t go through together.
3. Tell them your whole life story and be sure to leave in the details (only slightly sarcastic here).
4. Overestimate your bank balance.
5. Underestimate your time to be spent there.
6. Have a return flight ticket if possible.
7. Mention everything and be upfront on any reasons they may want to detain you because it’s better you say it before they think it.
8. Dress nicely and have good hair/makeup/a clean-shaven face if possible.
9. Be polite at all times, but not so polite as to seem like you’re hiding something (this is the only thing I can think of as to why she must have thought I was trouble from when I first opened my mouth).
10. Be honest, honest, honest!!
And, honestly, I’m kind of traumatized from the whole experience and am dreading ever returning by plane…which will be sometime after May as I’ve bought my mandatory ticket home for May 3rd. Ricky was angered enough to want to call in and complain about the harassment but sadly this is one of those things that I don’t want to/can’t cause trouble about due to the possibility that they have full rights to deport me just because.
I suppose the one silver lining though is that they weren’t using racial profiling at the border.
Anyway if anyone’s got any advice or similar experiences in this kind of situation let me know. I don’t know how hard this will make it for me to come into the UK again, even if I enter on an Austrian passport and have documentation saying I have the right to live and work here.
For the time being, I’ll leave it at that. I have plenty of good stories coming up but figured I’d get the unpleasant stuff out of the way first.
EDIT: I just remembered this golden video from ages back; never thought I’d go through something so similar myself. Franz Kafka International Airport, everyone.
PS. Icelandair is awesome and having a stopover in Reykjavik is amazing (you can actually extend your stopover for free with Icelandair to give you up to one or two weeks in Iceland); it’s a tiny little airport but the bathrooms are AMAZING and the food is SO GOOD. I wish I’d been more hungry so as to try all the smoked salmon sandwiches.