On Foreign Labor

02/02/2017: Write-up on personal experience arriving into a country and setting up a life of partially self-sufficient inhabitant. Getting a solid job is where you must start but also where you can easily burn out and give up.

I have been in and out of Plymouth for a year and a half now. I must say that the beginnings were very tough for me as an international student to be. It might be due to the fact that unlike majority of my expats staying in the UK for studies, I have neither support of any scholarship foundation nor particularly rich parents. And although they have supported me with amounts of money high even for them, for which I am highly grateful, it has never been as easy here as it is now.

My first month here consisted mainly of looking for job that would support my payments of rent for certain period. I had to do crazy things with my CV, making changes so that all potentially discriminating factors are hidden somewhere beneath the surface.

It was mostly thanks to a good combination of coincidence, and good luck. If it weren’t for help of the staff (Karen, namely) at the Rooms Hotel down in Stonehouse, I would most likely be back in Ostrava right now. It was her, who helped me to get my first job here as well as who has provided me with cheap accommodation at GBP 16 a night.

The first job was at a restaurant near the hostel. I started out as a waiter and had been moved to the kitchen after owner’s discovery of my high motivation for work and a decent amount of talent in food preparation. Frankly, another factor involved were my wiggly hands and an extreme fear of shoving all of the six bottles of beer from my serving tray down onto a table, which quite naturally resulted in such situations happening. I worked hard and actually enjoyed it. It made my respect for manual labor and people involved grow even beyond the point where it was before. I washed thousands of plates, chopped an equivalent of an almost endless carrot, learned to make a cheesecake and serve deserts, and fried so many fries I could live until the end of my life on them. (Though the end of my life would probably result from a blood clot due to high cholesterol buildup.)

At least four times every week, I walked 45 minutes from my rented house to the workplace I was so grateful to have. I was always at least 15 minutes early and put a maximum effort at all times, cleaning the storage room every Wednesday, the hobs and worktops every day, and the oil filters over the hob every Sunday, whenever I was not busy doing something that involved a knife. It was physically demanding work and I was able to clear my thoughts at that time and I almost felt I could carry on doing that job at reasonable hours for the whole three years I intended to stay in this country.

Unfortunately, not every time is the course of actions the way one imagines it and sets it out. Time has come for me to take a plane home for a rewarding three-week vacation I would spend with my friends and family in order to finally get some rest. And so I took off. But I was still due about GBP 150 from my November pay. This receivable has increased to GBP 532 by the end of the year and I had to start acting. I did everything. I wrote a grievance letter, I contacted the ACAS service, I have gone through the early conciliation process, successfully obtained a legally binding agreement to be paid GBP 432. It still didn’t go through. The owner kept arguing the four-times confirmed and signed-form receipt of the letter. And because there was no way of suing him without ruining myself financially, I had to give up and live in desperation for the rest of the year.

And because my housemates weren’t very warm and friendly, I did not have many places to go for at least some form of comforting. I only had my PC with Skype on it and a connection to… To my favorite extrovert. I even called the free student Anytime Advice and Mental Health Helpline - 24/7 support few times, where they were very helpful with the psychological support and the care to listen to me for 2 hours at 4am. If you ever have issues like I did and need help of a pro, don’t hesitate. Your university probably has their number.

Despite this support from both of these, I become emotionally quite unstable and have done stuff like destroying a total of 5 computer hard drives by punching the corner of my computer. But I guess that is a story for another time.

Point is, finding a job in a country you have never been to and have no connections in whatsoever is one of the hardest tasks I have ever come upon. And being able to fully rely on whoever provides this job is not entirely a good idea. Life away from home is hard and there always will be people who might want to take chance of your dependence.

I am generally not a skeptic. I always find ways of coping with issues and ways to fight the world-suck (see John Green and the Nerdfighteria for details on this phrase). But in this case, it was just tough. And you gotta be tough as well and try to make best of your efforts. Always regard your welfare. Do not back down and make sure you have a potential back-up plan.

For me, I have found one. I have got two part-time positions with the university, a promotional demonstration of the Bloomberg lab we have, and a wonderful experience in the Peer Assisted Learning Scheme as a session leader. I love both of these activities. And the university always pays. And always the exact amount.

Therefore, if you can, look for employers with a great background and high number of employees, rather than a friendly looking family business. Trust me. No matter how good you are at your job, there will unfortunately always be a difference between a native and a foreign worker. At least down here in Plymouth, where the vast majority of people are locals.

Truly, it makes sense in these days of awaking nationalist movements and resistance against immigration. And it is a shame. Because the locals, you know, they have the wonderful social system backing them up. And most of them would prefer unemployment over the demanding manual labor the immigrants do here. Maybe Brexit will change this.

Be tolerant, people. I know it is a bit uncomfortable for a nation to face influx of people who don’t know its language well and may have weird cultural habits. But they may have comparative advantage in some professions. And with ageing population of the western world, having an immigration of tax-payers is not a bad thing at all.

No matter how naïve I seem at this point, I still agree that importing violence is not reasonable and that everyone should be assessed for compatibility with the national historic and cultural values individually.