The days have shortened; the sky is illuminated by the pale winter sun. The frost has left reminder of its touch on the remains of leaves on the pavement. London is at its best during winter. Autumn has passed me by in a whirl of new work and visa application panics. My fifth London anniversary passed without much fanfare in September, as I was preparing for my Life in the UK test- which I passed with remarkable ease, despite my rather rusty study habits. My sixth Thanksgiving, a moment of calm amidst the chaos, was spent with my friends, a holiday which my husband has taken to for its culinary possibilities (though I found his latest endeavour of turkey-filled turkey dubious). On Tuesday I finally completed my last visa, after a night spent wide awake with fear that I’d forgotten something important. It feels like a milestone in my life, the SET(M) form (also known as indefinite leave to remain/settlement), a culmination and documentation of a lifetime of dreaming and struggling and risk.
If you had told me ten years ago that a uni trip to London for a week would have led to the events occurring now, I wouldn’t have dared to believe it possible. In the past 5 years, I have earned a second degree and possibly set upon the path of moving towards a doctorate, made close friends and married one of them, and explored even more of England. I’ve picniced in front of a henge and looked for fossils along the Jurassic Coast. I’ve walked along an icy beach along the North Sea at Christmas and stood on neolithic burial grounds. I’ve seen my favourite actors on stage and witnessed my teenage music heroes front row centre in concert (oh Pulp). I’ve travelled all over London and seen such wonders and delights, not mention absurdities. I’ve also been fortunate enough to travel outside the country- with three weeks of massive cultural shock in North Africa, travelling through the Atlas Mountains on rain drenched roads on a mad local bus, driving along the edges of Moroccan desert, walking around medieval cities and dealing with complicated, friendly, infuriating people. It has only made me greedy for more experiences in more places, from Finland to Peru to Mali. Life in London has expanded my world and given me the confidence to live as I want, with passion and wonder and enthusiasm. The world feels so close, so within reach, that I sometimes take such marvels for granted. Other times I am shocked into stillness, amazed that I have managed to stumble into a life formerly only dreamed about.
As my fifth year here draws to a close, I feel ready to start anew. I want to move past the precarious existence that the visa process seems to encourage. Constantly applying for visa creates a sort of identity crisis. It is jarring to know that after becoming part of a community and beginning to amass items that speak of permanence and shared memories, it could all be so easily taken away if the right t’s aren’t crossed and i’s aren’t dotted on an application. I began to feel as though my experiences and memories were being flattened and forced into a specific narrative of evidential documentation. If this visa comes through next spring, I will be a few steps closer to being able to integrate fully in British society, to participate in electing officials who affect my life and to feel as though I truly belong. That burden of foreignness that remains long after I’ve stopped actually thinking of myself as foreign will finally dissipate. After five years, I’m happy to say that I’m still very excited to what the future will bring, as long as I have biscuits and tea at hand.