“I have an opportunity to make a difference every day”

Elmarie Goosen and her husband lived in the UK for 16 years and though it was a positive experience, she was homesick and longed to be back under the African sun living a purposeful life.  In 2014, she and her husband attended one of Homecoming Revolution’s events in London and as a result, she landed a job at Barclays Africa. Here is her homecomer story

We did not leave South Africa intentionally but more as an idea to have an extended adventurous honeymoon. We left for the UK in October 1998, as newlyweds after a whirlwind romance. We made use of  the two year Working Holiday Visa. The plan was to use the opportunity to travel for two years and then come back to South Africa to settle and become grown-ups. Sixteen years later we were still in the UK, owned an apartment, had dual citizenship and careers, because life happens and time flies.

Life in the UK was very good to us. We traveled a lot, we both worked for great corporates like Virgin and Vodafone, we owned a nice apartment and had a very comfortable life. We integrated, became obsessed with the weather and learnt to accept that being invited for a BBQ meant pork sausages and burger patties.

Life was good overall, but every year, winter became harder and harder to deal with. Not seeing the sun for 90 days can create havoc with the constitution of even the hardiest of plaasmeisies. The run up to Christmas was fine, there was bonfire night and then the prospect of snow before Christmas that always made me feel excited and happy. Autumn was always my favorite season, not too rainy, clear crisp days and the autumn colors could make a sunset look on fire. Then came January and it would be gray, wet, cold and miserable. By March, the Spring flowers came out and gave hope but the warm days would only set in around June and then stick around intermittently until end August. Winters were really hard to cope with.

Then there was the pain of missing out or not being there for the big events. My dad died unexpectedly in 1999 and the flight home for the funeral was one of the worst things I had to go through. I felt guilty for not being home, for leaving soon after the funeral and for not being there to support my younger siblings and mother afterwards. We missed births, two weddings and my grandfather’s funeral over the years and our feeling of isolation became more prominent.

We used to come back to South Africa every two years for a five week Christmas as both our families were living in South Africa, and on 6 January 2014 as we sat at OR Tambo when I looked at Peter and asked him “What are we going back for?”. I had just read him a text message from my nine-year-old niece saying that she did not know she had that many tears. We said goodbye three days ago and she had been crying since then. Peter and I looked at each other and all of a sudden, we just knew it was time to come home. We’ve been struggling for a couple of years with finding a sense of purpose, making a difference and we both felt in England we had jobs but no purpose. In South Africa we could make a difference.

It still took us seven months to make the decision to return home, and with all the negative news we were worried we would not find work. In mid-August we agreed that we should take a leap of faith and within six weeks we arrived back in South Africa with four suitcases and a cat. Everything else was loaded in a container and making its way to Durban.

We returned to a completely different country. Somethings were better, other were worse but we decided to not read the news and to really approach the integration as if it were different country and not compare it with our experiences before we left. I can list a hundred things for and against the move but I do not regret moving back for 3 very simple reasons:

  1. Even in the middle of winter I can sit outside, feel the sun on my face and look at the bluest of blue skies
  2. I have not made my niece cry once since we are back, I am part of family life, I was here when my youngest niece was born, when my grandmother died and when my nephews played their 1st rugby match
  3. Every day I have an opportunity to make a difference

If you want to return, do not expect everything to work because it doesn’t. This is a country with challenges and complicated politics but the sun shines most of the time and no matter what time of the year you will get a whiff of boerewors on the braai. So come back with an open mind, an acceptance that things are done slower (although a slower pace of life is not actually a bad thing) and a view that this beautiful country is still changing and evolving and isn’t  it  exciting to think you can play a part in the dynamics.

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