Although she was happy and content with her life as it were back in Trinidad, Maria Tumolo was at a crossroad regarding her professional and personal development. She had received a firm offer of admission from Edinburgh University with the intention of pursuing a masters degree in publishing, but she had never been away from home. At the age of 27, she finally made the decision to move to England.
“I came to England on a working holiday visa. On arrival I lived and worked in Cambridge for a few months,” Tumolo says. “I eventually moved to London because at the time, I was living with the family of an English work mate who I met in Trinidad. When she decided to move back to Cambridge, I moved to London so she could be with her family. It was also easier to travel around Europe from London.”
Today, Tumolo lives in Surrey, England with her husband and children – Angelo and Valentina who are five & three years old respectively – where she is a children’s book author and the founder of a Trini-British Parenting & Lifestyle Blog that explores parenting as an expat, family experiences as a mixed heritage family, fashion and food.
Tumolo shares her journey to England and tells us more about raising a multicultural family.
Describe your initial experience upon arrival in England. Did you experience any culture shock, and if so, what was the biggest for you?
Prior to my move to England, I had visited friends in London for long weekends or was en-route to the airport for travel. I was shocked that it was not as neat and clean as Cambridge. I was also amazed by the diversity of people and foods.
Did you tend to gravitate more towards people who were like you culturally, or were you going with the flow in terms of meeting different people?
By the time I moved to London, I already had a network of friends from my university days in Trinidad. I was also introduced to a few more Trinis along the way. However, I mostly went with the flow. I made new friends and acquaintances through work, and the various house shares I had over the years. Some of the individuals I met were English, German, American, Polish and British.
What is it like raising multi-cultural children in England?
My children are still quite young and their world is sheltered. I don’t know any different because my own family is diverse and people are people. Little by little though, my hubby [who is Chinese and Italian] and I share with them bits of our cultural heritages through food and the arts. The area we live in and the school they attend don’t have a large non-English community, but our friendship base is wide. We have no issues and take all things in stride.
Do you think about striking the balance between their Chinese, Italian and Afro-Caribbean heritages?
I don’t focus too much on striking a balance between exposing them to any one culture, not even our own. I want them to think as global citizens of the world if you will. When family and friends visit, they get their exposure to how our cultures do things, whether it’s from family stories they hear about, or how we live our lives everyday.
Have there been any particularly unique family experiences as a mixed heritage family?
Our life is more settled now and I’m more secure in my role as a mother. However, when my son was younger, people would ask me if he was mine. He did and still does look very much like his father with strong Chinese features, although his dad is biracial and is more mixed. I know people do wonder; these days I don’t get comments directed at me, but I do hear from time to time, people quietly wondering if I am his carer. My daughter looks more mixed race and has more of my features. I guess that’s why no one ever asks about my relationship to her.
What is your advice for expat families or individuals who wish to move to England (or to the United Kingdom in general)?
I came to England as a young, single woman. Making the transition from a single woman to a wife and mother far away from home without family support was challenging. I’d advise anyone, whether you are single or relocating with a family, to have a core network of friends and family available to you if possible. Research the area you are thinking of moving to ahead of time to find information on things like the crime rate and even schools. Find out if you can practice your faith and culture freely, if that’s important to you. Be sure to have backup funds, just in case things don’t go the way you originally planned from the start. If you are moving and taking up employment directly, consider who your emergency contacts will be — companies and childminders always ask for this type of information. In a post EU Referendum UK we are moving into unchartered waters and it’s a ripple effect that will affect politics globally; before you move anywhere in Britain, be sure to do thorough research and make sure you are comfortable with whatever decision you make.
Image: Courtesy Maria Tumolo
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