Here’s another reflection on the experience of migration, this time from Lithuania. It’s part of our series arising from the participation of King David (Oluwale) in the All Ah We Are Migrants troupe formed by Harrison Bundey Mama Dread’s Masqueraders at the Leeds West Indian Carnival in August 2017.

This story was recorded by our friends at the Centre for Global Education in York, and it appears here on their Facebook page.  It is reprinted here with their permission.

I come from Lithuania. It is a very small country, perhaps a bit less advanced than the UK. It feels like one big city. People there are more in touch with nature. I was different from other children as my Mum and Dad lived an alternative lifestyle, growing their own vegetables and other food and saving money as they were quite poor. So, compared with other kids, I did not have luxuries or the latest fashions. I did not like it so much then and resented my parents, but now I appreciate what they have done and I really like them.
Leaving was a very easy decision to take. People started going to study abroad. I came to the UK in 2004. We had the same conditions as UK citizens and the benefit of student loans. I wanted to try and live somewhere else than Lithuania. I left behind my Mum, my Dad and my sister (she was already studying in Canada), and my extended family. All my friends were also leaving for different countries.
When I first came to England, I was interested in the topic of Home. I wrote a lot about home in prose, plays and poems. I was homesick then. I saw home as a place in my childhood, a safe place. Key moments that are very personal. In my mind, a home needed a cat for it to really be a home, and some cherished family objects. I first went to Italy for a year, and I realised there that actually, as I was surrounded by international people, I was developing an international personality and I had less need for a home. I did go back to Lithuania while I lived in Italy but I felt it was just to get a ‘fix’ of being home and then I was able to go away again. Now I know that I can create a safe home for myself anywhere.
What did I pack? Too many things! I started packing much too late, at 10 o’clock at night for my 7.00 am flight. Nothing fitted in my luggage. My parents had to send an extra suitcase after I left, full of books, sewing materials and other items. When it arrived, I realised that I did not really need them. My most useful item was my Dad’s camera. I regret not taking my cat Mice, pronounced ‘Mitsa’ in Lithuanian.
The most difficult thing to leave behind was the feeling that I was on top of a situation, that I knew exactly where I was, where buses were going. The feeling that I was the master/mistress of Knowing. The most difficult person to leave behind was my Dad. When I started off, I was very naïve. I thought it would be like a summer camp where I would make lots of friends. I was excited and assumed things would make sense. I did not really plan my journey. I wanted to go on an adventure; I was happy to go into the unknown.

My destination? Something different, not experienced before. First, I came to the UK, then I spent one year in Italy as part of my university language course. It was an eye-opener. Italy made me feel more different than in the UK; I had to adapt. Back in the UK, I worked for one year and I realised that I was no longer surrounded by international people but mainly by English people. I call it my ‘English year’. I got bored. I wanted to go to film school, so I attended film school in Leeds and again became surrounded by international people: I realised that this is where I want to be; none of the people around me are interested in nationalism or things like that. Before I left Lithuania, I made a bet with my friends. In my country, it’s almost considered as uncool to go abroad, as everybody does it; so, my friends said they bet that once in the UK, I would adopt foreign ways and meet a foreign boy-friend and stay in the UK for good. I said ‘No, I’ll come back and have a Lithuanian boy-friend!’ Well I was proved wrong and lost my bet, because now I can’t see myself going back to live in Lithuania, AND I have an English boy-friend.

Who helped me? I was very lucky. Before Leeds, I studied for a while in Lancaster, in the North West, where people are very friendly. I had two jobs as well as going to university, because I needed the money. Through my jobs, I became part of the community. One Christmas, I could not afford to travel back home and I was invited by my two employers to Christmas dinner. I worked in a café as a Barista and got to know people who would tell me their life story; this helped a lot, I did not feel very lonely.
My parents helped me the most. They were the ones who let me and sister go abroad and made sacrifices. They could not really afford it but they found ways to help us.

What I found most difficult on arriving in the UK was the culture shock. But on reflection, having this culture shock helped me because it forced me to consider why people behave in certain ways, to find reasons for their behaviour and to understand more about the world. In the process, I grew up.

I keep in touch with the ones I left by Skype. Also sending postcards; with my friends who are now around the world, we like sending postcards to one another.

The best memory of my journey is almost my worst one: I rang my Mum and she told me that my cat had died. My cat Mice was the last ‘item’ on a list I had made about the things that still linked me to home and being a child. Of course, I got very upset. This happened during my ‘English year’.But I felt that now that my cat was gone, I was no longer a child, I was a grown up.

I used to write letters to myself when I was growing up, so I started re-reading these letters and I realised that all these years, I had been writing about wanting to become a film- maker. So, on hearing the news about my cat and on re-reading my old letters, I decided: ‘I’ll do this, I’ll make films’. I really grew up that day.

I came to Leeds two years ago to study at the Northern Film School. I planned to made films and I did. It’s good to be a student again. There are lots of students coming and going in Leeds, a lot of student activity. I spend most of my time at the film school, that’s what I do the most. I’ve been working on projects, I’ve read about a hundred books on film-making. I don’t have much of a social life.
One obstacle is getting funding as I am not an English national, so funding opportunities have been rejected. Also, the film industry is very harsh and quite old-fashioned. You have to be loud and aggressive it you want to get on. Being a female and soft-spoken does not help. You have to be pushy, you have to be what you are not.
Now I get so busy I don’t have so much time to communicate with my people at home, but I use my travelling time on buses and trains to ring them.
One main difference between Lithuania and the UK is that here people are more open-minded, more liberal, freer to say whatever they want. For instance, people can wear pyjamas in the street and everyone is OK with it. In my country, people always observe you; they have values left by socialism. Lithuanians are really helpful in general but are very rude in customer services and shops. Conversely, my groups of friends back home are very loyal to each other and you can ask for favours guilt-free. Here people would expect something in return.
What surprises and annoys me about the British is their inability to be direct.
What I like most about British culture is the natural way people have of being nice to each other. It’s the way they are raised; they don’t have any conflicts, they want everyone to get along. Some British people, however, feel entitled, and I don’t like that.
I think British people would appreciate the fact that in my country, the Pagan traditions are still alive, while they have been lost long ago in Britain. We celebrate the seasons, we understand our place in Nature, we are aware that we humans don’t rule the world, that we are part of the bigger picture.
The values I share with the British is politeness, freedom of speech, of expression, and the youth culture.
I could teach British people how to dance. They don’t like dancing and they need to dance more. Maybe British people could teach me how not to stress too much, they are very good at that.
I wish I had brought back my old notebooks, my photographs, my childhood things.
I get on really well with other migrants in Leeds. There are two types: those who are a bit detached from their culture and those who cannot let go and hang on to what they have left behind. I find it harder to find common ground with the latter, although I understand them and I try to help them. Now, I am more in a position to help others than needing help for myself.
My dreams? I really want to experience living in another country/city, may be Berlin, or South America which intrigues me, or Asia. I want to carry on learning things.
What keeps me hopeful is arts and people. There is a special moment which means a lot to me: the moment when I meet someone and we just click and the same with art, the moment when I see a piece of art which speaks to me. These moments keep me hopeful. I am very interested in that particular connection between art and people, which is universal.
I stay strong because I have an easy-going personality; I also have a quality that migrants acquire. In Lithuanian, it is called: ‘UZGRUDINTAS’. It does not translate exactly but is akin to being prepared, tempered, seasoned; having experienced lots of little setbacks that make you strong and able to endure the bigger obstacles.
Every day, I think that it’s good to live. I don’t take life for granted; it’s not worth wasting it. This comes from my culture as I was raised to be humble, not very loud.
I already contribute to the Yorkshire community by being part of the art world, the creative world which is very international at the moment. I work at finding common ground between nationalities, this generates a lot of creativity and I carry on this legacy. I belong to the Dance community, having joined Lindihop, based in Leeds; I teach and I perform.
When I close my eyes and think of home, I see my childhood home, my old house, my Mum and Dad and my sister.
Yes, I think that I have already made Yorkshire my home. My nostalgic home for my first eighteen years is also out there, but home is a state of mind. Now I feel at home here. When you know where the buses are going, that’s when you know you are at home.