Life on a Sunshine Island
By: Mimi Finerty - Also see author's expat blog listingGrowing up I was unbelievably shy; I say unbelievably because if you meet me now, you would never guess that I was the quiet little girl hiding behind my mother’s skirt. Over the years I have come out of my shell, developed a sense of myself and become fiercely independent. And I guess my journey really started at the age of ten when I lost my mother to a relatively short battle with cancer.
This journey of self-discovery certainly didn’t happen at the tender age of ten. For many years, I struggled with the usual dilemmas of childhood, the teenage years and finding my way as 20 something graduate living in London. Without a mother for guidance I had to learn a lot of lessons the hard way; as a young women your mother’s guidance can be invaluable and while my father was an exceptional parent, there are just some things you need a mother for.
Graduating from university as the UK slipped into recession was bad timing to say the least. At this point I had been with my boyfriend for 6 years; we both found ourselves in meaningless jobs, still living at home with our parents with no exciting prospects on the horizon. I didn’t know it then, but I was soon to become an expat.
The decision to move to Cyprus was not made overnight. Packing up your entire life into a suitcase, saying goodbye to friends and family and heading to an unknown land is not an easy decision to make. We spent many days, weeks and even months deliberating whether life on the other side of Europe would be better for us, or if it was our post holiday feelings coming to the forefront.
But once we made the decision there was no turning back. I spent the following few months working away in London, soaking up any extra hours I could get my hands on and penny pinching, all to make our new life savings pot that little bit richer. We wanted to have enough money behind us to live for at least 4 months, including rent, food and bills, so we could establish our lives in another country, find our feet and not feel the pressure of an empty bank balance forcing us home prematurely.
The day we booked our flights was one of those “breathe a sigh of relief” moments. As soon as that British Airways email confirmation landed in my inbox, it became real. In little more than a few weeks we would be residents in a new country.
At this point, the fear kicked in; but I think it is natural to be a little scared of the unknown. Especially when the unknown effectively means being homeless, jobless, friendless and moneyless in a different country. Where you don’t speak the language. It would have been so easy to give up at the fear stage.
But as soon as we touched down in Larnaca airport, the sunny October afternoon pushed the thought of England right to the back of my mind. I am a sunshine lover through and through. Everyday I woke up in London to rain was a day not worth living; for me or anyone who came into contact with me. I am pretty sure I have SAD (seasonal affective disorder) although a professional never diagnosed this. However my mood changes at the mere thought of a raindrop or grey cloud so there has to be some weight behind my self-diagnosis. But lets step away from discussing my weather aversion.
In some ways we took the easy expat route; my boyfriend is half Cypriot and still has several family members who live on the island, which meant we would never have to start from scratch like many who move abroad. There was no living out of a hotel room for us, or trying to navigate a new and bewildering transport system. Our first home on the island would be grannies. It would be our base for “operation build life on a little island” and the rest of the family acted as our go to guide for all things Cyprus. That first month with granny was a challenge; not only did my waistline expand due to her home cooked creations on a daily basis, but my need for independence and my own space was tested.
Granny lives in a small village just outside the city centre. But unfortunately internet connection had not reached her, so every morning at 7.45am we would take the bus from the village into the city centre where we could access internet; not only to keep in touch with the outside world and friends and family in England, but to search for jobs and apartments.
And we found our feet pretty quickly. The apartment came first. To be honest I wanted to have a home, where I could unpack the few belongings I had with me and feel at least settled before starting any sort of job. Unlike London where you could walk into any letting agent and tell them your requirements, looking for an apartment in Cyprus means scanning the local newspapers, the handful of internet letting agents or simply wandering the streets looking for signs on balcony’s. While trawling the streets for apartments might not sound like fun, especially in 28 degrees, it was actually a great way to get to know the areas. And it worked. We found a older style apartment, with space, light and more importantly air conditioning, in a nice area, within walking distance to the city, in a quiet building. And with the contract signed it was off to IKEA to burn our savings on practical items like a bed, plates and a shower curtain. I think it was the most controlled I had ever been in IKEA.
Next came the jobs. It was kind of a given that my boyfriend would be employed before me. Being half Cypriot and have the language on his side, it was not long before he was snapped up. And while working in a store wasn’t his dream job, it was for the greater good of the team. So while he spent his days helping customers, I spent my days taking advantage of the newly installed internet and uploaded my CV to as many recruitment agencies I could find, applying for everything from cleaner to shop assistant, to receptionist, to office administrator.
I am not going to lie, there were desperate times; with my boyfriend working, I was left to spend my days at home, in an empty apartment, searching for work. With no job, no friends and no money, it was unsurprising that my mood hit an all time low. When you are trying desperately to settle in a new country and all you want to do is work, it can be quite stressful, especially without the support of friends and family.
But patience is a virtue. Out of the blue one morning my otherwise silent phone rang; I’d sent my CV to a company when we first arrived in Cyprus and due to the sheer amount of companies I had applied to, had completely forgotten about the position. Two days later I had an interview; and while it was my third interview in a foreign land, it was as nerve racking as the first. But it turns out I was what they didn’t know they wanted. Compared to most Cypriots I bring a different skills set to the table; I’m fluent in written and spoken English for a start, I have a fashion writing degree and experience in marketing, sales and fashion. Being a financial services company, my fashion experience was worthless, but they found something in me they liked and a few days later, was offered the position. Calling my boyfriend to tell him I had just been offered a job was this moment of relief and excitement. And then came the nerves about what to wear on my first day of work at a financial services company. Well I did study fashion!
Being an expat isn’t easy. Aside from finding a home and a job, finding friends, in my eyes, is essential for survival. But finding friends in a new country can be a daunting task. I was lucky enough to enter a working environment where I found friendship as well as a job. And 2 years later, I have developed a small, but extremely supportive group of friends who have seen me through the homesickness and have been my shoulders to cry on and shopping companions when times get tough.
Moving to a new country, let alone a small island, brings with it many challenges; learning a new language, adopting a new lifestyle and embracing a new culture can be both exciting and unnerving. But it’s an adventure. Through the ups and downs, tears and tantrums, I have had the best two years of my life. I have grown as a person, developed new skills and embraced a newfound confidence, which came from pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
And if the shy girl hiding behind her mothers skirt can take the leap, anyone can.
About the author:I am a London girl who swapped rain and roast dinners for Mediterranean Culture and beach days. My name is Mimi. I met my soulmate a while back - we graduated, moved to Cyprus and picked up a pooch along the way. I am unashamedly passionate about food and I love fashion, beauty, culture and photography.
Blog address: http://loveandlifein.blogspot.co.uk Twitter: @mimifinerty
Contest Comments » There are 8 comments
You have been a brave soul all along. Your blog has made my throat tight and my heart hurt but I am so very proud of you.
Such a lovely, well written down to earth piece of writng. Really enjoyed the read and makes it so true that most things can be achieved by true determination.
Mimi m! love your story and how bravely you manage changes and face the world! go girl go! and never stop! Looking forward to your next posts x
Coming home from my in-laws can't stop reading! Lucky me Martynka's sleeping...
An inspirational piece of writing, always enjoy reading Mimis blogs!
Loved it. It has really touched me. x
I always read your blog Mimi - it brightens up many a dull and drizzly London day! Keep up the good work x
Enjoyed and well written Mimi, will be reading your blog from now on.