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Teodora Totorean, Tiverton, Devon

Who are you?

My name is Teodora Totorean and I am a Romanian woman living and working in the UK. I am self-employed, working from home as a freelance writer while trying to establish myself as an artist. I am also a Cultural Champion, occasionally going to schools in Devon, talking about Romanian culture through interactive presentations and other activities.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I came to the UK in 2005 in Woking, Surrey. Initially I came here as an au-pair to learn English and get a language certificate needed to continue my studies upon my return to Romania. I decided to stay after I met my future husband and got married in 2007.What challenges did you face during the move?

My first challenge was flying to the UK. I have never been abroad before and I never travelled by plane. I took my flight from Budapest, Hungary, on my own, so this was a bit challenging as I can’t speak Hungarian and my English was rather limited at the time. But by observing what other people did and remembering the instructions I had from the agency, I managed to safely arrive at destination in Gatwick airport where a member of the host family waited for me.

Another challenge was the language. Although I studied English at school for eight years, I found it difficult to have a coherent conversation without constantly thinking about my grammar and without interrupting the person and asking them to repeat or explain what she/he had said. Also, living with a family other than my own was quite challenging too. I felt a bit strange at the beginning and I didn’t know how to behave and what to talk about so I spent most of my time out of the house or in my room.

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After I got married, another challenge was understanding how the household management worked in terms of registering with different providers (gas, electricity, Internet, etc), paying the bills, cancelling contracts, etc.

How did you find somewhere to live?

I came as an au-pair so I stayed with a host family. As I came through an agency from Romania, everything was arranged prior to my arrival. Currently I live with my husband in a rented flat found through an estate agency in our town, Tiverton.

Are there many other expats in your area?

There are only a handful of Romanians in the town where I live, but there are a few Indian families as well as quite a few Polish and East European families. 35 km further away, there is a university with lots of international students and there are a few multicultural communities organizing various events like celebrations, festivals, reading clubs, and other meetings.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

Due to my career, I don’t really go out too much, but overall I can say that I have a good relationship with the locals. I interact with artists in my area and I am a member of a few local art societies so I take part in group art exhibitions in Devon. I also used to volunteer in the local museum for three years so I established a good relationship with other volunteers and museum lovers. As an artist, I have a good relationship with a few business owners who offered me a place to display my work for which I am extremely grateful.

What do you like about life where you are?

It is quiet and peaceful, people are very polite and I also like the area. It is a good town to live in because it is situated at equal distance from the seaside, big cities and national parks so I am never short of choices as to where to spend a nice day out. I also like there is an active art community organizing meetings, exhibitions, open studio events so there are art exhibitions everywhere all year round. As I enjoy nature, there are many places for walking in any season. There is also a theatre in the nearest city and lots of cinemas. I enjoy local festivals, craft fairs and folk live music. I also quite enjoy food and the diversity of choice, from traditional British food to Chinese and Indian specialities. And this might come as a surprise for some people but I like the British weather: not too cold in the winter and not too hot in the summer – perfect for my liking!

What do you dislike about your expat life?

There are two things that I dislike about my expat life. One is the fact that I don’t speak my native language and even though my English is quite good now, sometimes I still have problems having a spontaneous conversation (still thinking about my grammar all the time) and I am still struggling to understand humour, especially when I meet people for the first time. Another thing I dislike is how some people might perceive me.

Unfortunately Romanian people don’t have a good publicity abroad, especially now as starting from 1 January 2014 they will be free to move and work in the UK, thus generating a few negative press campaigns against Romanians. I also feel that as an expat, it wouldn’t be fair to have opinions about politics, government, local council, benefits and medical system, taxes, etc. I just do what I have to do as a resident without voicing my opinions, including about the potential Romanian influx in the UK from 2014.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

My advice would be: be open-minded, learn the language, don’t judge the culture you entered through your own culture, respect and embrace the differences, socialize with the locals as much as you can and find hobbies and interests you enjoy. No matter what your education level is, it is always a good idea to obtain an equivalent of your studies and qualifications from home. Career wise, don’t limit yourself just because you are not native or local; learn the language and then work towards your professional goals.

What are your plans for the future?

When I was in Romania I had a clear vision of what I wanted to achieve in life, mainly career oriented. As circumstances changed, I had to adapt to the new environment, system and culture. I am quite happy at the moment about where I am and all I want right now is to keep my independence as self-employed for as long as I can. If I decide to move back to Romania or anywhere else sometimes in the future, I can take the business with me. Apart from that, I just want to enjoy life, to visit other places here or abroad and who knows, maybe to buy a house in the UK at some point.