What made you come to the UK, I asked Kathie*?
‘In Poland if you come from a small town and you are lucky enough to get a job you stay in it for life. There’s not much opportunity to keep developing yourself. You have to wait until someone retires before a post comes up.’
Kathie qualified as a nurse in Poland and decided to come to work in the UK because she believed, from friends and colleauges, that she would find a more fulfilling nursing career in the UK. She started working in a bar soon after she arrived in the UK, alongside a Polish friend who was already working there. Kathie's goal was to feel more comfortable about speaking English but she never intended to 'get too comfortable':
‘If I do not get the chance to work in nursing then I said to myself I’m going back. I didn’t come to the UK just to work in any kind of job. Either I’m working my way towards nursing or, if that’s not possible, I’m going back.’
She soon left the bar. Her friends 'were happy with what they were getting; they were being paid'. But the accommodation she was living in that was provided by the bar 'wasn't so nice' and there were few opportunities to connect with other people because she was always working. Kathie 'couldn't actually judge whether [she] was being paid well or not, but [she] just didn't feel treated very well.' 'These experiences pushed me forward', she said.
Next stop for Kathie was working for an agency. The best thing about that was that they 'explained how I had to do things properly': '
'I didn't want to be working illegally. I’d never worked full time in Poland before, I’d only ever been a student so I didn’t have a good idea when I came to the UK about what sorts of requirements that needed to be in place – paying taxes and national insurance and things. The agency helped me with that.'
Kathie described how she met lots of ambitious people working for agencies, many of whom, like her, were from other European countries: 'I kept meeting people who were quite driven. They were all working towards something, wanting to achieve something.' She learned medical English on her days off, and slowly moved into work that was more directly relevant to nursing. Eighteen months later she is working as a nurse in a hospital. She describes her success as the product of pushing herself rather than any particular institutional or social support:
'Mostly it was very much my own initiative to find work, find accommodation - to try to live a normal life. I didn’t have any help. It was all me, trying to figure out how to get things done. I kept pushing myself to learn. I’m not the bravest of people but I kept pushing myself, trying to achieve something.'
'What would you tell your younger self?', I ask. 'Keep calm and carry on', says Kathie.
* Kathie's real name has been changed.