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Szilvia Vitanyi (33)
Originally from Hungary
When I lived in Hungary, I worked as a dressmaker. I always had plenty of work there, but the money I got just wasn’t enough to live on.
When I arrived three years ago, my English didn’t go further than “yes” and “no”, and working as a hotel chambermaid was hard after what I did in Hungary. Now I’m still cleaning toilets, but things are much better.
I don’t feel like a lesser person than I did back home, because through work I have got to know all different kinds of people. I like them a lot and I think they like me, so I’m actually very happy now.
Sometimes I feel London is like a prostitute: everybody’s coming here to get what they want, then they go back home. I feel sorry for London when I think that. I often think differently though – that this city can really be a home for anybody, a place where you can be anything if you try. If you’re ready to work for a goal, I feel that here you can make it.
Right now, I can make a better life here than in Hungary. I miss my country so much, but I am glad I came.
James Morgan (46)
Originally from Australia
I came to London 14 years ago to look at paintings. I’d just finished a fine art degree and, as you do as an artist, I got a job in a restaurant. I just kept at it, right until I opened the Hackney Pearl four-and-a-half years ago.
The main difficulty is finding skilled staff I can afford, especially chefs. Training isn’t as good here as in some places and the supply of chefs hasn’t kept pace with the past decade’s restaurant boom.
There’s a huge amount of wealth here, but it’s concentrated in a small number of hands and the average Londoner can struggle to get by.
But London also offers opportunity. Restaurant standards and people’s awareness have improved enormously. There’s more confidence in eating out. There’s still a lot of room for growth here.
I miss Australia, but I find London’s diversity wonderful. It’s possibly the greatest city in the world, and is full of joy as well as difficulties. Generally, the English are very tolerant, warm and welcoming, so it’s a good place to be.
Ece Ozdemiroglu (44)
Managing director, Eftec
Originally from Turkey
I moved here from Istanbul in 1991 to do a masters, because the UK was famous for the quality of its postgraduate study. I was struck by how I was treated as an equal, different from Turkey, where you call your teachers “Sir”.
I couldn’t get a job afterwards, so I founded an environmental economics consultancy. London is the ideal place for it, partly because there is a big tradition of governments getting advice from experts.
The demand here made me stay, but it’s the city’s international character that made me thrive. It’s merit-based, more about what than who you know. I found few problems in the workplace as a foreign female and have never had my foreignness thrown back at me.
When you provide a successful service from London you have a good reputation across Europe and the world. Our 15 employees and 20 associates are very international, and they’re attracted to London for similar reasons. It can be difficult at times, of course.
This city is nonstop, and I have to be at the top of my game at all times.
Zeeshan Tayyeb (38)
Finance director, Iris Software
Originally from Pakistan
I came to London because the chemical company I worked for offered me an 18-month secondment here. I made a conscious decision to remain. My next employer offered me a job in the Netherlands, but London’s diversity and social and cultural opportunities are unique.
London is as open as you want it to be, whereas in Rome, Paris or Amsterdam you have to fit in. I came intending to integrate into London’s life, so I had no issues, though I’ve had colleagues who have found this tougher.
London has two major challenges for me: it’s not always easy to mix with real Londoners born and bred, and there’s much less space here, both at home and work. That was a major adjustment – I’d never expected that the Underground would be so crowded or to hear of three-hour commutes.
I still feel very positive. London is performance-driven, though not materialistic compared with places like Dubai. If you put in effort, you will get the reward. And although people work long hours, the work-life balance here is better than in the Far and Middle East.
Alaina Wong (31)
Digital deputy editor, Cedar Communications; lifestyle blogger
Originally from Hong Kong
When I came to London in 2004, the pull was that, going to a British school in Hong Kong, I was exposed to British culture from an early age. I was grasping for somewhere with lots of history, and London for me meant the huge cultural riches that were then lacking in Hong Kong.
While I pretty much fell in love instantly, there was a period when I almost hated London. I got tired of the daily grind, the city’s hardness.
Now, however, I’ve turned 180 degrees and feel very excited about London, its buzz and energy. I love the humour, which I had to get used to because I didn’t grow up with daily irony and sarcasm.
My partner and I were considering moving to the US, but things like the health system are so much better here, as is getting about without a car.
Talking to international friends, they agree that there’s a key four- to six-year mark for new Londoners. After that, you actually start to enjoy London’s grittiness.
Baylen Leonard (41)
Radio presenter, BBC London
Originally from the US
Seventeen years ago, I was on a dance floor in New York, where I was a jobbing actor/waiter, and it just came into my head: I’m moving to London. I’d never been before and it’s not like I loved tea or the royal family.
I moved with my then partner two years later, and it was a shock at first. I’d expected London to be like New York, so moving to Bermondsey, I found myself wondering: “Where’s the traffic, the 24-hour stores, the taxis, the screaming?”
I made a decision to stop comparing the cities and as I started understanding London more deeply – things like pub culture or the big Asian influence – it started falling into place and I fell in undying love. There are none so keen as the converted, and I endeavoured so much to get to know the place that I sometimes feel more London-ish than born Londoners.
I couldn’t have been prouder when the Olympics came to town – I was cheering the home team.
Everything I have ever built up is here in this city. London is mine and I am London’s.
Robson Rizzi (42)
Cultural event organizer
Originally from Brazil
When I first came to London in 2005 it was the mix of historic heritage and extreme modernity that struck me hardest: tiny beautiful old streets next to huge glass buildings. The diversity was also amazing – even now I am impressed to hear five languages being spoken in a single Tube carriage.
Coming from a country like Brazil to a wealthy one like the UK wasn’t exactly what I expected. I was shocked to see things like dirty, shabby buses or people eating fried chicken with their fingers, which didn’t fit in at all with my preconceptions.
I also still struggle with the language. Day-to-day business is no problem, but I get frustrated when I can’t express myself as articulately as I want to.
On the positive side, London may have a reputation for being expensive, but when you take normal wages into account, it feels more affordable than my home town of São Paulo.
As a gay man, I also feel I can have a freer, fuller life here than in my home country.
Above all, there are real opportunities here. It’s taken time, but with the cultural events I am organising, I am now pursuing the things I really love.
While London’s French community famously pivots around South Kensington, home to the respected Lycée Français Charles de Gaulles, the most recent wave of French newcomers to London have landed further east, writes Feargus O’Sullivan.
With lower rents, a good nightlife and technology industry links, London’s East End is often young French arrivals’ first port of call – there is even a Parisian-run bistro in the area’s curry stronghold, Brick Lane.
There is symmetry to this move: the streets nearby were first built as homes for some of London’s first French migrants, Huguenot weavers escaping persecution by Louis XIV.
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