From Zimbabwe to Manchester

Published by: Isy Paton

Published on: 17 Sep, 2020

A very personal insight into making the transition from life in Zimbabwe to living in Manchester through the eyes of a young migrant, who despite challenges settling in, is now living a successful and fulfilled life. 

Amanda moved from Zimbabwe to the Manchester area of the UK when she was a child. Having completed her schooling in the UK, she attended the University of Manchester where she studied Law and now works as a Legal Assistant in a property law firm. She lives with her Boyfriend, Callum in Salford Quays.

What brought you to the UK?

I was only 13 years old when I moved here from Zimbabwe. My mother’s sisters had moved over to the north of England a few years before, and my mother came to join them a couple of years before we did. I was still in Zimbabwe with my siblings whilst she found work and settled here. I came two months before my sister and brother, but my cousin was already in the UK and had learnt a lot about living here and was able to be my guide.

What is your earliest memory of being in the UK?

I remember a lot because I was a teenager, so I remember being on the plane and arriving at Gatwick Airport and my mother and my aunty were there to greet me, then we got the night bus from London to Manchester. I remember the plane landed at around 6am and it was November so it was dark, then we arrived in Manchester and I went to sleep and woke up and it was the early evening. It was winter so it was already dark and I remember thinking ‘is it always dark here?’ We lived in a slightly rough area at the time and my mother was nervous about letting me go out alone, so I only went out to places with my cousin. I loved to read and so one of the first places my cousin took me was the library, and told me I could take out any books I liked, which was brilliant. We also went to the park a lot and to the shopping centre.

Amanda a couple of years before coming to the UK. School trip to Hwange National Park

What surprised you the most when you came to the UK?

When I started at school, I was really surprised how much freedom children in the UK have and that teachers don’t discipline the students in the same way that teachers discipline children in Zimbabwe. The teachers would take children who were naughty out of the classroom and talk to them, there was no physical discipline which was new to me. I also thought that my English was pretty good, but I soon realised that it was only about 50% as good as I thought it was. There are lots of dialects and accents, especially in the north of the UK and there were so many slang words that I had to learn. I also learnt that in Manchester people don’t really pronounce the letter T in words. There were a lot of African kids at my school and some European and actually the kids from Africa spoke better English than the Europeans. Also, in Zimbabwe families stay living as a unit until you get married, so I went to school in Manchester and then to University in Manchester to study law and never really thought about moving somewhere else and I continued to live with my family until very recently.

What has changed most since you came to the UK?

I have moved around the area of Manchester quite a bit, and some of the places we lived were not that great, the crime was quite bad so you would see people jumping into gardens, lots of robberies and fights, but now there seems to be a lot less now and the crime is definitely lower, even though I live quite central to the city now. I also think the transport has improved a lot and there are a lot more ways to get around, Manchester has buses, trains and trams and there are more services, going to more places.

What is the biggest difference between living in the UK and living in Zimbabwe?

There is a lot of corruption in Zimbabwe, the rules change all the time, one day the bus journey would cost this much and then the next day it would be twice the price for the same journey without any warning or explanation as to why. I also see a big difference in terms of how people treat each other, in Zimbabwe there is a lot of emphasis on community and respect for older people, so that younger people speak differently to the older people in the community, but here I don’t see that so much, it maybe because I live in the city so there is less of a sense of community.

What do you wish you had known when you moved here?

I was really lucky because my cousin was already here and was able to help me and teach me lots of things that I might not have learnt so quickly. I am talking about things like the bus numbers, there are no bus numbers in Zimbabwe, and I learnt that the numbers all correlate to routes and places and learning this system helped me a lot. I also was surprised that you need to take a £1 coin to the supermarket so that you can get a trolley, you don’t do this in Zimbabwe, no one steals shopping trollies in Zimbabwe. Finally, it was really important was learning the seasons and learning when it gets light and knowing at what time during the different seasons it gets dark!

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