As a ten-year-old I didn’t fully understand the effect that moving to England would have on my life. It was exciting, full of opportunities to see and experience new things – much like a holiday. But there’s a big difference between a holiday and a new life. Now, as a thirteen-year-old, I’m better placed to understand the anguish my parents went through in the run-up to us leaving.

I was born in the city of Fălticeni, Romania, my home a flat in and amongst other four-storey blocks. It wasn’t the case everywhere – we were surrounded by beautiful forests – but with lots of industrial buildings and an overuse of concrete I couldn’t describe the city as beautiful.

Historically my country has had its share of upheavals, the effects of which are still felt today. Notably the uprising at Christmas 1989, which brought about the end of Communist rule overseen by the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Although they were young at the time, my parents have described what life was like through their eyes. There was hardship; at times it was bleak –I sometimes wonder how they survived.

 

But despite having so little they say they were happy… Maybe having nothing as a comparison they felt content. That is possibly why, when becoming aware of opportunities outside of Romania, they made the life-changing decision they did.

I enjoyed school there and had good friends, but around my home were a lot of troublesome kids. My mother did her best to shield me from them, but the poverty I’d see on a daily basis was harder to avoid. It was commonplace to see homeless people, some even lived in a tunnel beneath our block of flats. I didn’t judge them; instead I was curious what led them to live such an extreme life. When I could I’d help; a spare Romanian leu (20p) was better in their hands than my pocket.

With Romania in deep economic trouble, it was becoming difficult for my parents to maintain a good standard of living for me and my younger brother. My mother took any job she could find, while my father worked long hours as a mechanic. My mother, knowing the situation wasn’t going to improve, suggested to my father that for the sake of us kids we should consider moving to England. My father dismissed the idea – he didn’t want to leave (maybe, mistakenly, seeing it as a failure on his part to provide fully for his family).

One day, after a particularly tough week, my father returned home cold, wet and exhausted with a wage that in no way reflected the long and arduous hours he’d put in. He turned to my mother and said, ‘I can’t do this any more’ – he’d reached breaking point. With the decision made in private, it was down to my mother to break the news to me and my brother. To put a positive spin on things she took us to the park; having played for a while she took us to one side and asked whether we’d like to go on holiday to England. ‘Sure,’ I replied – what ten-year-old wouldn’t?

In the weeks that followed I could sense that emotions between my parents were running high – I had a hunch something else was going on. I asked my mother how long the holiday was going to last and when we would return home. She hesitated before replying, ‘I’m not sure, it might not be any time soon.’ Although the consequences of living in a different country didn’t sink in, the reasons behind the decision became clear when my mother explained in detail. I wasn’t selfish enough to question how it would affect me; I wanted the best for my parents and I trusted them that they wouldn’t be leading us into a worse situation.

Our departure was low profile. Family members visited to wish us well, but the atmosphere wasn’t jubilant. My parent’s decision was driven by unavoidable necessity. As we set off for the airport on 16 July 2014 I realised that friendships, especially like the sort I had with my cousin, were ending and those bonds would never be quite the same again. But as we flew over London and approached Stansted Airport I set those feelings aside – I felt on top of the world.

We headed straight to an aunt and uncle who, having initially moved from Romania to London, had settled in Harlow. Despite the many positives they spoke of, they did explain there was a small minority in Harlow who were against the influx of nationalities like mine.

 

Therefore, my parents were somewhat anxious about me going out on my own. With that in mind my father took me to a nearby park for a kickabout. It was packed with kids – a group of which asked if I wanted to play football. Although I’d been learning English at school it felt too soon to reveal myself as a newcomer. Despite further attempts encouraging me to join them, I just politely smiled.

On the way home my father, who doesn’t understand English, asked whether the kids had been asking me to join them. I said yes; with that he explained that I shouldn’t worry – instead he encouraged me to get out there and make friends with them. Next time I saw them I made a point of apologising and have since become good friends. 

Being a skilled man, my father was able to adapt himself to various jobs, but soon returned to his real passion – working as a mechanic. My mother, as she had always done, took any work she could find. As a result of their hard work we quickly saw our lifestyle improve. 

Although there’s little doubt my parents missed their family and home country, they seemed happy with their new life. And if there were any doubts they put them aside when they saw how well me and my brother have settled into school and beyond.

Since arriving in England we’ve been back to Romania several times. However, my friends in Fălticeni, although pleased to see me, don’t feel like the friends I once knew – I guess we’ve changed and sadly drifted apart. It’s something I’ve had to accept, but it’s made easier because Harlow now feels more like home. I feel that way despite several occasions when kids have said to my face that they don’t like Romanians. It left me confused how at their age they’d formed that opinion. And when I confronted them they didn’t have anything to back up the comment. But even if one Romanian had done them wrong, that surely isn’t a reason to generalise the whole country – let alone me. I know it’s a human impulse to generalise, but I wish it wasn’t the case – those situations were hurtful to me. But aside from that I’ve very few negative things to say about Harlow.

The only thing I’d like to change is my parents’ struggle in learning English. Although they try their best, they often rely on me to translate. From my own experience I know the more they learn the more they’ll find it easier to integrate. But I do respect the fact they need my help and it’s a small price to pay for the sacrifices they’ve made.

When asked what the future holds for me, I prefer to say, ‘My future is still cloudy.’ But my ambition is to be involved in either space or science; perhaps both. I’m lucky that the secondary school I attend motivates me to achieve the big dreams I have. I don’t want to let my school or, more importantly, my parents down and neither do I want to live with regrets.

My parents have mentioned that it’s likely they’ll return to Romania one day – but only when my brother and I are older and have made a life for ourselves. Whether I stay in Harlow depends a lot on where life takes me. But I see my future, if not in Harlow, certainly in this country.

© 2018 CHRIS HADDON

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