Since I featured the book Bloom Where You’re Planted on expat life, I’ve had people asking me about relocating, so I thought it would be interesting to invite a professional to provide another perspective. Victoria runs Perfect Cuppa which supports people, usually professionals, relocating to the UK with the language and culture. Since my blog is not a corporate blog, we had a chat about settling the family in, which was not covered in great depth in the Bloom book.
Anywhere, here she is with her top tips …
Top tips for settling your family into the UK
Moving to a new country can be a big challenge, even if you have done it previously. In fact many people I meet as clients believe moving to the UK will be easy, as London is a large, multi-cultural city with English as the international language. This is true to a certain extent, however, relocating to London with a family might not be as straight-forward as it seems, so here are my top tips to help the kids feel settled quickly & you feel orientated & more plugged in.
- School gate chat: chatting to other parents at drop off & pick up time, is a great way to have your questions answered about the school, how things are done & where to find things in the local area. Not sure how to kick off? In the UK the weather is a good topic & we like to comment on the weather, even it’s only a little bit warm or cold! But of course anything to do with school is a hot topic like SATS (the national tests in years 2 & 6. The British are quite keen on testing kids, even at early ages), whether people are tutoring or not (can be controversial), homework etc.
- Coffee mornings: depending on the school, you may find coffee mornings are organised as socials or information meetings, and you can meet other parents & learn more about what’s going on in the school. Don’t be fooled by the name, yes there is coffee, but tea is still the drink of choice in the UK. Usually drunk with cold milk (not hot milk or cream), the most popular way to make tea is in a mug, tea bag first, then hot water, finally milk. If you have a friend around, you will need a kettle to make a proper cuppa! I don’t recommend making a cup of tea in the microwave, it just doesn’t taste nice.
- Lunchtime: School dinners confusingly can be the name of the meal at lunchtime, and every school will provide an option to eat there. The meals are free for school years Reception to year 2, and there is a small charge for the other years. If you prefer your child to have a packed lunch, then this is possible, and they can bring in a cold lunch, usually including the very English sandwich, in a lunchbox. Just check your school’s rules on what you can include, as some schools are very strict about nuts or chocolate, plus sweets & crisps (the British names for “candy” and “chips”).
- After-school fun: there are countless opportunities for after-school clubs, inside school & in externally-run groups. If you child is shy or they are trying to get better at speaking English, then they can get to know their classmates in a more relaxed environment. There is a group for anything & everything out there, and if you’re looking for recommendations, then check out your local parenting facebook group, e.g. “Hampstead Mums” is the facebook group to join if you live in Hampstead. Alternatively, I think Girl Guiding & Scouts are another good option for your kids to meet friends, and don’t forget there are a number of day activity camps in London during the school holidays.
- Play date rules: Another popular thing for after school in the UK are playdates. We tend to organise these in advance with the other parent, and it can be in a local playground, one of your homes, or soft play. Usually they are quite short, an hour or 2, and the kids will have a snack but won’t have a full dinner, unless you specifically make an arrangement. Play dates with younger children would expect you to go along too, but with older ones, if you’ve arranged for them to be picked up after school by the other parent, then you need to let the school know in advance that you give permission. Occasionally people will spontaneously organise a playdate, especially in the summer when lots of parents might head to the playground, but it’s more unusual.
- Chill time: a great way for your kids to understand British life & other children can be as simple as watching TV, and if English is a 2nd language, then this can help them improve. Even at advanced levels, it’s worth watching with the subtitles on to improve fluency & connect British pronunciation with words. I would highly recommend you check out programmes via the BBC i-player app, which is an on-demand service you can access for free if you have paid your TV license fee, and CBBC is the children’s channel. Current popular programmes include Blue Peter, Millie Inbetween, and the 4 o’clock club.
- Charity fundraising & dressing up:Whether it’s Red Nose Day, Halloween, or Children in Need Day, you need to know the British are pretty serious about key events in the calendar & charity fundraising. You can expect quiz nights, school fairs & fancy dress or “wear your own clothes” days (very exciting as British schoolkids usually wear a uniform), all ably organised by the school’s PTA (parent-teaching association). You can volunteer to help organise these events, which is another good way to make friends. Also don’t forget that fundraising & school events include lots of cakes, sugar consumption & prizes, all in the name of charity!
Thanks Victoria, I could do with some help on school gate chat myself! Hope you have found the tips useful and if you have any further questions do comment below or get in touch with Victoria directly: Victoria@perfectcuppaenglish.co.uk,www.perfectcuppaenglish.co.uk.
Victoria Rennoldson, Founder of Perfect Cuppa English, was born in & has lived most of her life in London with her young family. After a first career in brand marketing, she re-qualified in teaching English, and took the plunge to become an entrepreneur. She set up her company, Perfect Cuppa English, in 2015 to offer private English language and British Culture courses for adults, in Everyday & Business English, for greater speaking confidence. She regularly gives talks and writes articles about British language, life & culture.
You can regularly find her zipping between client meetings on the London underground, and she’s now pretty fast on the escalators. Her favourite things include tea (of course); a good pair of flat shoes to maximise speed up & down escalators on the speed dash between meetings; beautiful notepads & a great selection of coloured pens. If you’re making her a cuppa, she prefers Twinings English Breakfast tea.