When I first thought about doing a master degree, a big part of the motivation was to give my kids the opportunity to study abroad. The benefits of a full year of new adventures in a foreign country is hard to measure and also tough to visualise. Learning another language and experiencing other cultures in an early stage of your life is a game changer. Therefore, we wanted a widely spoken language in a culturally rich environment, which lead us straight to the United Kingdom (and consequently to the best University on the planet).
In order to help you get the picture, my wife and I have three kids: two daughters and a boy. They were 15, 9 and 6 years old, respectively, when we arrived in Oxford. Not only my kids didn’t speak English, but neither did my wife. Challenging, right?
I did my best to plan ahead and to get everything under control before leaving Brazil:
- Visa? Although expensive, the process was very smooth and we got the documents on time for the trip. Check!
- Accommodation? I got an offer from my College for a three-bedroom house! Check!
- Schools? I applied through the Oxfordshire County Council website. It took some time and a few phone calls to the UK, but in the end my kids were accepted in the schools we wanted. Check!
However, no matter how hard you plan, things still don’t go exactly the way you want. The first month was very difficult in a lot of ways. The kids had difficulties to make friends at school. The language was a barrier. The food was different. We missed our families and above all, I realised that I was too rusty on my study skills!
Nevertheless, we always knew it was part of the process and it would take some time for us to adapt. And it didn’t take long.
The environment in a College and within the School is amazing. All families are going through the same problems and difficulties. Therefore, they end up bonding and becoming really good friends: the kind that throw a surprise birthday party for your wife, share a Christmas dinner and teach you how to play squash!
Learning English was another good part of the experience for my family. Part of the trick was to adopt English as the primary language at home. Although it seemed weird in the beginning, we are normally speaking English at all times now. The kids are doing great and communicating perfectly, which also reflected in their capacity to make friend at school. Although the University of Oxford didn’t offer enough support to learn English for my wife’s needs, she took free English classes in the city centre and then an exam to be able to teach English as a foreign language back at home. Yes, you heard me. A certified English teacher after one year in the UK!
In terms of memories, this year was able to produce some interesting moments that can make any parent feel really proud. First, when my older girl decided to join a leadership course during her vacations, because she knew how important that was. Or, when she got only top grades in her A Levels and got a full scholarship to study arts. Second, after returning from a school trip to meet a famous writer, my middle one decided that it was time for her to write her first book (she actually did it!). Or, during the afternoons after school, when she would tell me all about the interesting facts of WWII, Shakespeare and/or science. Third, watching my big boy become the goal keeper of the Summertown Stars Under 9 team. Putting himself in front of those blasting kicks and performing so many tough saves was unique. He became a true leader in the field, while developing other interpersonal skills with his new friends.
If you are reading this blog and end up taking the right decision to come to Oxford, let me give one more piece of advice: travel around the UK. In my case, I bought a car and used it to take my family to more than 30 different cities in England, Scotland, and Wales. Castles, cliffs, beaches, amusement parks, and other historical sites (Stonehenge was my favorite!) are spread all across the country. The history of the United Kingdom is directly linked to the world we live in, so don’t miss it! Go find these places, like we did. They are also part of the learning package.
Living in Oxford was a lifetime experience. The kind of thing that you cannot get if you don’t take chances and defy yourself. The kids are in love with the city and complaining everyday about leaving. Oxford will always have a place in our hearts and will be part of my legacy to my family.
We wish you a good choice!
Bruno Goncalves is an alumnus of the Blavatnik School of Government (MPP Class of 2015) and is now working as a Research Assistant at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care.