A recent conversation about Daisy Roots with an expat made me think that I’ve never really considered myself to be an expat, although I suppose I’ve been one my entire life. I was born in Argentina but due to my father’s work ended up moving between South America and Germany throughout my childhood, which was rather multilingual. I started off with Spanish and German and later added English, French, Italian and Portuguese to my repertoire. I also studied Japanese and Russian as a teenager.
After secondary school I came to London, initially just for a few months, but I never left. I did my undergraduate and postgraduate studies here, and when I finished my MA I sent out 200 job applications and went on holiday. Amazingly, upon my return my flatmate informed me that a production company had called about a job on a documentary in Germany and Poland. I worked for them, and the following year was employed by the BBC, initially as a Researcher and Assistant Producer and soon after as a Producer/Director.
Over more than a decade, I had a great time travelling the world making documentaries for the BBC, on subjects as varied as the Rwandan genocide, bride-stealing in Kyrghyztan and the latest crime-fighting initiatives in Mexico City. I found it really fascinating how you can really get under the skin of a place when you are filming, and immersed in a particular story. One reviewer wrote about my film on the land issue in Zimbabwe that it showed a world which normally only serves as a backdrop to news reports, and that was the aspect I most relished. Along the way I made great friends both at the BBC and in the places I worked in. In those pre-social media days, long-lost friends or acquaintances and even former teachers got in touch after spotting my name on the end credits.
For many years, London was where I was based, but I spent at least half the year on the move, often in places which had been ravaged by war, natural disasters or poverty. Coming back to my flat in Notting Hill sometimes seemed a bit unreal – everything was so clean and orderly, and I didn’t need a satellite phone. Once I’d had kids, constant travel seemed somehow less appealing, and I took some time out to pursue my other interest, languages. I qualified as a translator and joined the Chartered Institute of Linguists. I started looking for more flexible working options, such as making films for charities (much shorter turn-around, London-based) and picking and choosing projects more carefully, so I could spend more time at home. Where exactly this ‘home’ was tended to change on a regular basis, as we had to move to accommodate our expanding, and growing, brood. I’ve found that being in a trendy neighbourhood full of cafes and restaurants tends to lose its interest if you’re too exhausted to leave the house come 7pm, and that living in more spacious quarters in a family-friendly area makes much more sense.
I also had to learn to navigate the British educational system, which is far less straightforward than I would have ever imagined. Ten years on, I can say we’ve tried it all: bilingual schools, state schools, private schools… and it has been a steep learning curve. I’m a journalist by training, so I spent a lot of time and effort researching all the options we had with regards to education, such as schools, tutors, etc. Having lived in London for so long, I also had a network of sorts, but I kept meeting women who had either just arrived and didn’t know anyone, or felt they had not been given the right advice, which resulted in incurring extra costs by having to move house, change schools, etc. Some women I spoke to were Londoners, but everything had changed since they’d been at school and they needed a helping hand. So I set up a business aimed at people like them and me, to provide support and guidance with childcare, housing and educations at a reasonable price… the sort of service I would have paid for when I had three children aged 0, 1 and 2 and no time at all to look into anything, make sense of the myriad of options available, let alone make an informed decision.
That’s how Daisy Roots came to be; it’s been almost a year now and we’ve been asked to find properties near schools for families moving to London or within the city and to source maternity nurses; we’ve found tutors for children sitting exams for selective schools or for children who aren’t doing as well as they ought to at school, and bilingual nannies as well as nannies or early-years tutors who can teach children English and prepare them for school, which starts at the age of 4. We’ve also been asked to set up a service to transport children between airports and boarding schools, and launder and store their belongings during holidays.
London can be a tough place to get to grips with, particularly when there are children involved. Choosing the right neighbourhood to settle in is crucial, and there are many aspects to consider: your children’s current and future educational requirements (there may be a nursery school in close proximity, but what about primary and secondary schools?) You have to look at the cost of renting or buying – sometimes bargains can be found along the edges of desirable postcodes, or just beyond them. What are the transport links like, and is it preferable to be close to work or to the kids’ schools (for the record, the answer is ‘schools’, because what looks like a short distance on a map can turn into a long and stressful journey with cantankerous children in London’s horrific rush hour traffic.)
My experiences of London have been manifold – I’ve been a student, a young professional, a parent, a freelancer. Despite the many logistical challenges this huge city presents, and its high cost of living, London has got to be one of the most wonderful places to be in. It is full of culture, interest and fun. It’s one of the greenest capitals there are, and children are very well catered for in terms of the sheer amount and variety of activities on offer, be they sports, educational or cultural, often provided for free or at low cost.
London is a multinational and multilingual place, where you can experience the world, sample its cuisine, listen to its music and admire its art without ever leaving it. And when you do, you are glad to return, because here you feel you are at the centre of something great. After all these years, I still feel privileged to live here, and it’s a sentiment shared by everyone at Daisy Roots. We root for London, truly.