I had one more week to stay in Brighton. Every weekend we used to make a trip. We’ve been in Paris, Amsterdam and Edinburgh. There were school trips; we were travelling in a rented bus, stayed for two nights, visiting what it was worth seeing. I had a few friends in London, so I decided to by a train ticket and go there by myself. I still remember the road as it was yesterday. I reached Victoria Station where a friend of mine was waiting for me. She would change my life and convince me to stay in London to study. Thank you, Z! Maybe it wasn’t much for her, but it was the big turning point of my life. We were chatting in her little flat, sitting on the window sill in her kitchen. She had already been there for a year. No matter what she told me, my answer was “I just can’t wait to get back home”. It was an extraordinary weekend, totally different from one in Bucharest. I accompanied her at the Regents College and it seemed fascinating, I felt like a shadow among the glamour surrounding me. With the backpack on my shoulder, I was surrounded by bags and shoes from the last collections of the great fashion houses. Honestly, I enjoyed it, everything was well organized and people were kind. My friend convinced me to go to the college registry and ask what I need to register myself here. I was pleased to find out there were no queues and that the secretaries were very nice and they lacked the bitterness of the ones back home who were waiting to be bribed before paying you attention. Sorry to say, but this is my point of view about the universities in Romania. I was listening to her and comparing the way she spoke English after just one year spent there with the way I did. Besides, it was just the registering period and I could start that September, which was in less than two weeks time. I didn’t feel prepared, but I decided to give it a try. They told me I have to pass an English language test and I started to get confident. I had one week to get ready. I left for Brighton and I was to get back to London few days later. I spent my time studying, but it wasn’t enough time to pass the test. I scored 5.5 and I was supposed to score at least 6.5 in order to pass. Don’t think about our grading system as here is completely different. Anyway, I didn’t pass than. I cried a lot then and now I can’t understand why as I really had no chance to start in September, first of all because I wasn’t feeling up to do something which for I had no logical explanation. I started the three months training programme to prepare for the next admission test. I had the same schedule as in Brighton. Until that point, it was quite simple: I had to go to school, to learn, pass the test and in February I was supposed to start College. I didn’t even realise I started to grow up. I was living with my friend and I had out to burst the bubble, to get out from my perfect little world from home and start depending on myself. I was 19 and I felt like I knew nothing. I was looking around me to see children who left home at 10 and who seemed to know everything, not needing their parents any longer, or maybe just needed their money to live in the expensive city of London. I first moved to a college dormitory, much fancier than the ones in Romania, but minuscule. Obsessed by clothes as I always was, it was just like living in a small warehouse with shoes and bags. It took a while until I learned that I needed to open a bank account, that I needed God knows how many letters of recommendation, that there was no room for hooey and that you have to take care of yourself. They were demanding and you just have to deliver without any delay: at the bank, at college, with the rent. I had no credit there as I was a student and especially new in this country, so the process took longer than usual, but I managed to do it. I have learned that bread gets mouldy and I am not ashamed to admit that back home I had no idea that bread should be bought daily. I have learned that little by little bills add up and if you don’t pay for the electricity you’ll end up sitting in the dark. I have learned to observe every rule, including where to take the garbage and which colour the garbage bags are supposed to have. The fine for not observing these rules was half my monthly allowance. I have always been on a tight budget, from the first day I arrived there, even if many thought that Oana was spending in London as much as some people doing a life time. There were moths when I ran out of money from the first week, but I never called home to ask for money, no matter how the situation was and my parents can confirm. Anyway, I owe them everything; they’ve supported me there and provided an allowance which is more than a student spends in Romania. It is true that costs are very different there as well. They always sent everything I needed, but I have never asked for more.
Besides all practical things mentioned above, I have learned to be a human being. I came here being nobody, just “Oana”, it didn’t matter who my parents were, what they were doing, how much money I had in my account or what car I was driving since everybody had maybe 100 times more than I did. I had to decide what kind of people I should join and I had some unpleasant experiences, I had to get into drugs to stay in one group, but I didn’t. I stood up and I left, I said “no” even though I knew I would never get out with these people again. I went out with kids born with the silver spoon in their mouth. And when saying this I have in mind a totally different level than the one in Romania. There are people who can afford to spend the price of one bedroom flat in Bucharest just in one night at the club. I didn’t feel comfortable either, one time was just enough. We are still in touch, but we rarely see each other for a coffee. They are just acquaintances and nothing more. I can declare myself lucky for meeting “normal” people there, dear friends which will always have a place in my heart, no matter where we are in the world. We are lucky enough to have access to advanced technology which helps us keep in touch as much as possible.
Anyway, I passed the exam with a score of 7.5 and I started to go to college in February, 2010. I spent my first two weeks weeping and literally banging my head against the walls. I wanted to get back home, I didn’t understand a word of what teachers were saying and I was ashamed to open my mouth when I listened how the other students were speaking. I was still making language mistakes, but I learned that practice makes perfection. During breaks, there was gossip about news, novelties, politics and stuff. If you were not into reading, you were considered stupid and with no opinion. Every evening I started reading the newspapers so I could say something about what was happening in the world. It wasn’t easy, I can assure you. I know it sounds nice: London, clubs, money, but there is much more than that. In the beginning, the things from home that I missed were more important. I guess I could read a book about my years in London and especially about the change I had to make during the last years. The things I’ve learned there could never be learned in Romania even if you are the richest man on the planet, you just can’t. I started there to be on my own, without my mother to fix me breakfast or my father to take care of all my problems. There were days when there was nobody to give me a hug and nights when I was suffering alone from a cold or maybe I just had my mom to talk with on the phone. There I was all alone and no matter how hard it was, I wouldn’t change a thing. Or maybe I would also leave home at 10, just that.