Expat life – when your friends become your family

The decision to move from home, family and friends and go start over in another city; let alone a city on a whole other country and continent is not an easy one. In 2009, just after we got married, we left our perfectly comfortable life in Johannesburg, South Africa to come and live in the UK.  Fast forward six years later and we have a son called Neo and call London our home.

When we first came to London, we were drawn to other South Africans in London and quickly made friends with a few of them. They reminded me of home and I was less homesick when I still continued to speak my home language and we would all get together to cook and eat food from South Africa.

It was only when I got pregnant late in 2010 and we joined National Childbirth Trust (NCT) after a suggestion from a colleague that our circle of friends expanded. Sometimes, all it takes is to have one thing in common and in the case of NCT: we are all having our first child and we are all clueless, nervous and scared! When our babies were born all within weeks of each other and we started spending more time together while on maternity leave, I started to realise other things we have in common with people who would otherwise be complete strangers. And these are the people I now, and still call my friends.

Of course, there were people we met who we didn’t immediately connect with; or who we lost along the way and stopped being friends with. It took me a long time to appreciate that it’s ok because real friends can never be lost!

My good friend Gugu once said that friends are the family you choose; this could not be any truer when you are an expat.

I get a different kind of fuzzy feeling when I reflect back on the friends we have made here. Sure, they are not many and they don’t need to be. What matters is that we are there for each other and that our friendship has grown to more than the fact that we have children the same age or are from South Africa.

It is less about having a lot of people around you and rather about having few trusted and quality friends. The ones you can call at short notice to baby sit or come around for a braai (barbeque). Or ones where you spend the whole afternoon and evening talking and laughing and only realising when the children run past you screaming and laughing that it is way past their bed time. The friends where, even after spending so many hours together, you realise you still have so much to talk about.

These are the people in our lives that just bring so much joy. It is a wonderful feeling knowing that our life in London is full with our very own hand-picked family!

Do you have any experience/stories as an expat? I would love to hear them in the comments section below.

Thanks for stopping by!

Kgomotso xx

Friendship is a sheltering tree

Friendship is a sheltering tree


Raising a bi-lingual child

I have been on a serious mission these last few months. I was born and raised in South Africa and can easily speak and understand about four different South African languages. I remember sitting in a meeting conducted in English and getting a little bored so I started translating the English words in my native language of Setswana.

It was fun. Then I realised that my Neo, who was born and is now growing up in London and have started calling a television a telly (ggrrrr!) will never be able to do that. It made me so sad. But what’s sadness got to do with it. I have a job to do and honestly, it’s never too late to start teaching him Setswana. Technically he is a Mosotho (thanks to patriarchal society we come from and because PJ is a Mosotho) and although the Setswana and Sesotho are similar, I would rather he master one than learn my pathetic patch-up of Sesotho. Besides, it’s like what my brother said ‘There’s no such thing as father tongue!’

A friend was asking a few weeks ago why I am bothering. I am insisting on teaching him an African language spoken by a fraction of the world’s population. ‘When is he ever going to use Setswana in his life?’ she asked. I didn’t want to have to go into a spiel about studies on bilingual children. I feel that being born South African, it is a part of his identity and I would be doing him a real disservice if he didn’t learn or speak the language.

So I have started making a real effort; turned the volume up and only speak Setswana to Neo. It’s hard. I don’t speak Setswana on a daily basis mostly because there is literally nobody in at least a 5 mile radius of North London who speaks my language. And, to be able to switch to only Setswana has taken some real effort. I have even started speaking Setswana to PJ and have given a few phrases to Neo’s nursery and his friends so they start practising with him and greet him in his own language.

A few weeks in and we were making very slow progress. I know it will take him a while. Right now I have to prompt him to speak in Setswana. When we read books in English, I keep translating animals and things in Setswana and asking him to repeat after me. Not all of it is sinking in as I will ask him in Setswana and he will respond in English.

Most amazingly though is that even if he does not speak the language, he understands it. When I tried to trick him into washing his hair the other day while I was giving him his bath, he cried and responded in English ‘I don’t want to wash my hair!’ I love it! Now, if only I can get him to say that in Setswana ‘O seke wa ntlhapisa moriri!

On the positive side, he now knows how to say hello, how to ask for things, how to ask for help. It’s sweet. It’s a start. And when he speaks to me in English, I ask him to please speak Setswana. I’m taking advantage of this phase where they take absolutely everything in and hope it works out. I am stocking up on books, apps and fun toys to make learning his mother tongue fun and interesting. I am learning too. There were words that I have literally forgotten and have to refer to my mother and sister-in-law for translations. For example:
Rhino – Tshukudu
Eagle – Lekollwane(I honestly don’t think I ever knew this one!)
Hippo – Kudu
Below a few basic Setswana phrases:
Tsamaya sentle
Robala sentle

Only after he learns and speaks Setswana to my satisfaction, will I concede and let him learn French or Spanish.

Are you raising bilingual children? Any tips?

Thanks for stopping by. Have a nice day!
Kgomotso xx