Mihai Calin Bica moved to the UK to seek a better life but when he arrived, life was much tougher than he’d imagined and it took years of hard work before he finally felt at home. He shares his story below as part of our Human Journeys series.
I’m originally from Romania. I was part of a generation who wanted to break through in our own country even though it was not easy. I was always saying to people, ‘You can succeed in Romania.’
But life happens. You have to do something if you want to improve your situation. In 2012 I decided I had to go. I didn’t want to leave but I’d seen so many examples of people in the UK working, doing well and leading good lives. No one had anything negative to say about it. So I thought, okay, UK – let’s give it a try.
I wasn’t doing badly in Romania. I didn’t ‘escape’. I wanted better opportunities, to secure a better future for myself and a future family.
The first few days were a shock. I liked the huge mix of people here, the language and culture. But I was confident I could find a job I liked and not open to taking whatever. I wanted a good job. I saw that some members of my family already living in the UK grabbed any opportunity and had low-paid jobs in construction. I wasn’t willing to do that.
I had some savings – it wasn’t much. My best option was to share a bedroom with someone and rent a house with seven, eight, ten people living in it. Even with my savings, I could not afford a different place. It would have been impossible to do.
I was trying to find a job, to break through. As a Romanian, I had no right to apply for a job at that time because of EU work restrictions. I couldn’t understand why it was so hard.I didn’t bring anything with me that was particularly precious. The most important thing were my qualifications; my school and degree certificates. I thought they would help me when I was looking for a job but they didn’t. It was disheartening. I applied for the high skills migrant scheme. I didn’t see any reason I would not get it. My application was refused because I hadn’t sent in two kinds of proof of how I had been paid in Romania. They wanted bank statements and pay slips: I only sent in my contract and a bank statement.
I don’t give up easily. I work hard. Eventually, I thought, I need to sacrifice something. So I did work in the construction industry for a few years. It was not what I wanted to do. It was not my dream and was not easy.
I was proud of myself for the work which I had already done in Romania supporting the Roma community. I was doing something that made a change. I had studied social work at university and already worked for a few years. But here I was only experiencing barriers.
I had no social life. I sacrificed my time and my health – but I started to be rewarded financially which helped. I had always dreamed of having a family and being in a better financial situation.
What kept me going was the hope that at some point I will manage to open the doors I wanted. I had a strong hope. I was also meeting people who broke through the barriers, who succeeded. People would say that the first few years are hard, you have to fight and sacrifice a lot, but then, things will improve.
Over the years, I developed relationships and friends. I found a job I like. I started to feel better about myself and being in the UK. Now I work for the Roma Support Group working with the community, campaigning on their behalf and building up a strong network.
The conversation about Brexit has taken me back to 2012. It makes me question whether I should really be in the UK where it seems like people don’t want me to be here. Although I still think that the UK is one of the greatest countries in the world because it offers opportunity.
Now, I am happy that I made this choice. My life has improved. I have learnt a lot as an individual. I am stronger person and a better professional. I feel more independent. Nothing can stop me. I did those hard things, went through those experiences and it paid off. I have had a lot of opportunities which I am grateful for. I met my wife here and now we have our son. The sacrifice was worth it.