Agnieszka

Tax Manager

Lives in Leeds // From Myszkow, Poland

I was 19 when I came to UK. I just finished high school and had two full time jobs but I wasn’t earning enough to be able to support myself, let alone save up for University. The plan was to come to the UK for 6 months, earn a little bit of money (the exchange rate was quite good at the time) and go back to Poland to study. But here I am 14 years later!

My parents always instilled in me the importance of getting an education. I knew they wouldn’t be able to support me through University but they expected that I would go. They wanted me and my two brothers to strive for a better life than they had and getting a degree was a promise of that at the time.

Initially, I came to Scilly Islands. It was quite different than mainland UK in many ways. Because it was difficult for the hotels there to find seasonal staff, my employer provided accommodation. That’s why my outgoings in the first two years of living in the UK were quite modest which was great as I saved lots. Then, I moved to mainland UK to study, and realised how much things cost!

I worked through University. I always worked more than the recommended hours, pretty much full time but I also travelled a lot in Europe and also in Australia, and Asia. I went for a student exchange programme to Melbourne for half a year.

I am rather quiet, introverted and not very confident. When I asked my high school head teacher for reference to study in the UK, she said that I would be the last person she could think of that would move that far from home.

I think that’s an attitude of an average immigrant: chasing and creating opportunities. That’s why I have moved so many times, always following better jobs, more education... After Scilly Islands and undergrad at Surrey Uni in Guildford, I went on to do masters in Edinburgh and then had a job in Bristol, moved to Cambridge, then Oxford and now Leeds.

There has definitely been a shift: 15 years ago when Poland joined European Union, we were unskilled labour. Nowadays, we all have jobs which require a lot of skill, experience and often a degree. None of my Eastern European friends are in a ‘minimum wage’ job any more. We all have great careers, even though we all started the same – waitressing!

I don’t find that any of my colleagues treat Eastern Europeans differently. At work we are treated on par with the British. We all had to have the same skill, experience and work hard to get to where we are whether British or not. Whether at my current job with a big company or at my previous graduate job in a small company, I have not been made feel “less than” or like I don’t belong or I’m taking someone’s job. I know it wasn’t everyone’s experience though.

I moved up North because I and my partner decided that living in the South of England is relatively expensive and we thought it would be more affordable to buy a property here and have a better standard of living generally. We chose Leeds in particular as one of my best friends from Uni lives here.

I always think that home is where you make it to be, at the moment it is UK, it is Leeds. If I were to move, I’m sure I would make another place my home. But we are at a stage where my career is taking off and my partner wants to do his business which is generally much easier in the UK than in our respective home countries. So, I would expect that we’d stay in the UK for a while.

I don’t imagine going back to Poland. My parents are my only connection to that country. This detachment came in stages. I used to fly to Poland quite often, and while there, I would shop, go to the hairdressers and the dentists and sort out other “admin”; my mum would pack an entire bag full of Polish specialities to take back. Now I do all these things in the UK and I can get everything I want in many Polish shops.

If I were to move out of the UK, we would most probably go to Portugal. My partner’s mum lives in Lisbon so we alternate spending Christmas between there and Poland. I get on well with his family and I really like Portugal. We travel there quite often and I am learning Portuguese.

I often catch myself that when I am in the UK and I say “we” collectively, I mean Polish. But when I am in Poland, I say “we” and mean British society and the UK. When I am here I often say “back home” meaning Poland, but when I am there, “back home” is the UK.  

I am British citizen, I have dual nationality. I applied as I was a little bit worried when the EU referendum got announced. Of course, I voted to remain. I was shocked at the result. I knew it would be close but I thought common sense would prevail. I always thought the more united and collaborative you are, the better it is for the economy, and, economy of any country cannot survive without immigration. 

Blaming immigrants during the referendum campaign was absolutely disgusting, accusing us of coming here and claiming various benefits without knowledge of how social security really works and without the consideration that EU immigrants in particular bring to British economy more than they take in any benefits.

One of my favourite things about UK is, even if you live on a relatively low income, you can have an OK life compared to other countries in Europe, especially Eastern Europe. While in Poland you can have a job that pays considerably more than a minimum wage, but still struggle to make ends meet. The cost of living versus an average income in the UK is definitely more balanced.

Another thing I like is that UK is much more secular, Church doesn’t have as much influence here as it does in Poland. Poland is a very Catholic country with a huge influence of Church into politics and everyday life. I believe that this might be the reason why there is much more tolerance in the UK than in Poland which is another thing I love about UK. The only thing I can really complain about living in the UK is the weather. I’ve become very British complaining about it!

Overall, UK is definitely where I feel at home at the moment.

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