SA expat: ‘While I may be physically distant, my heart remains deeply connected to the place I proudly call home’

Amid the hustle and bustle of London, my South African identity stands strong

Reevana Jagersar Govender

Published Jan 27, 2024


Looking out of the window of my London flat, I’m greeted by grey skies, a stark contrast to the azure canvases I grew up with. It’s a familiar sight, yet inherently different, emblematic of the journey I’ve undertaken from the sun-kissed landscapes of South Africa to the bustling streets of London.

As I sip on my tea (Rooibos, obviously), I find myself reflecting on the age-old question: Is the grass really greener on the other side?

The journey from South Africa to the UK has been a roller-coaster of emotions, and the stark differences between the two have become more apparent over time.

Leaving the warm embrace of South African sunshine and the comfort of family was undoubtedly one of the most challenging aspects of my move. The notion of home is deeply ingrained, and there are moments when I yearn for the simplicity of a highveld sunset and the chatter of familiar voices.

However, living in London has its own set of charms that have woven themselves into the fabric of my daily life. The bustling energy of the city, the rich tapestry of cultures and the historic landmarks that dot the skyline have created a different but equally enchanting home.

It’s a city that embraces diversity, and every corner tells a story that adds to the mosaic of experiences. But, let’s talk about the elephant in the room – the weather.

Adapting to the chilly embrace of London’s climate has been an adventure. I find myself missing the warmth that permeates the South African air, especially during those cold, grey London days. Yet, there’s a certain romanticism in the rain-soaked streets and the mist that veils the Thames, creating a cityscape that’s hauntingly beautiful in its own right.

In contrast, London’s summers, though short, are sweet. The city transforms and the streets become alive with people basking in the rare warmth. Sunbathers populate the parks, and during lunch breaks, workers spill out onto the streets, eager to catch a few rays of sunshine. It’s a spectacle, a collective craving for the sun’s touch in a city where such moments are cherished.

However, even in this brief season, London sometimes turns into a furnace. The city, much like South Africa unprepared for cold, isn’t fully equipped for heat. The unusual sight of Londoners hastily shedding layers in a sudden heatwave is a testament to the city’s struggle with extreme temperatures.

Interestingly though, when we made the decision to move abroad, climate was not the priority when considering different countries.

When I look at South Africa from the outside, I can’t help but acknowledge the challenges it faces. The headlines often echo tales of despair – crime rates, service delivery struggles, load shedding, unemployment… It’s a harsh reality that paints a complex portrait of a nation wrestling its demons, but every country has their own demons.

My hope for South Africa is one of resilience and renewal, to be a nation that rises above its challenges and propels itself towards a brighter future. Yet, amid the challenges, South Africa remains a place of unparalleled positivity. The hospitality and vibrancy of the nation are woven into its fabric.

From the coastlines, to the mountains, to the undeniable sense of humour, to the flavourful cuisine, South Africa is a celebration of life. The warmth of its people and the unmistakable flavours of home are cherished aspects that reside in my heart, reminding me of the vibrant spirit that defines the nation.

While I may be physically distant, my heart remains deeply connected to the place I proudly call home. The cons of emigrating include the ache for the familiar, the longing for the embrace of loved ones, the occasional craving for a boerewors roll and that my daughters will call a robot a traffic light.

These are sacrifices one makes when stepping onto the path of a global citizen. Yet, the pros are equally compelling. The exposure to new cultures, the opportunities for personal and professional growth, and the chance to contribute to a global community are invaluable.

London has become a canvas on which I’ve painted new dreams and discovered facets of myself that might have remained hidden in the familiarity of my South African life.

Amid the hustle and bustle of London, my South African identity stands strong. I am proudly South African, carrying the melodies of my homeland in my heart. It’s a journey with its own set of challenges, joys and surprises.

In the tapestry of life, every thread counts. Each experience, whether in the warm embrace of South Africa or the bustling streets of London, adds richness and depth to our stories. The grass, it seems, cannot be described as greener on the other side; but it is a different shade, a different texture and a different adventure waiting to unfold.

Reevana Jagersar Govender, originally from Port Shepstone, is a South African expat living in London. She is an optometrist by profession and recently started a digital marketing business in the UK. She is married to Chandresan Govender, a lawyer, and they have two daughters. She can be found on The Daily Reev on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, where she share glimpses of her life as an expat.

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