Maria Thereza Petrogiannis is a British citizen, originally from Suceava, Romania. Through unpredicted circumstances, she moved to London 17 years ago, in 2001, at a time when Romania was going through tumultuous changes. After qualifying as a primary school teacher in Suceava and then as a journalist, at the Faculty of Jounalism and Communication Sciences in Bucharest, with training at Romania Liberă and Jurnalul National, her career took a completely different turn and now she finds herself teaching English and Functional Skills in… London. At the present moment, she is a single mother of two, a boy of 12 and a girl of 7 years old. Now in her 40s, she is trying to make the most of all the accumulated experience as a professional and to be of help to adults that try to improve their English, to access further education or work, or simply upgrade their chances to integration in UK.
When and why did you decide to leave Romania?
I used to travel a lot to many countries, especially to Belgium, where we have close family friends. Opportunities to travel were always there through my profession as a journalist. When I left Romania, in 2001, it wasn’t because I had actually made that decision, like so many of us did. It was simply because I happened to have been offered a job, during a holiday, at the company where my sister was working as a representative, in the UK. She had planned to live in Canada and invited me for a holiday to London one year before she left. So that was the starting point.
What were your expectations about the UK?
When I arrived in the UK, I travelled around for a while visiting cities and historic places. Other than London, I like Margate a lot. Coming from a Latin type of country, I was used to temperamental people, noisy and vivacious, I was expecting to see exactly the opposite in the UK, and I did. What I admire the most about the English people is their calmness and the elegance in their ways of treating each other, always considering the next in line as capable as oneself. To me personally, this is the highest sign of respect, and I never felt prayed on as a woman or disconsidered in any way. Although I have been a home mum for a few years, I went back into education and evolved professionally.
What were you doing here and what do you do there?
I am now working as an English teacher. My previous training, in Romania, as a primary school teacher and journalist, enabled me to attend a post-graduate course in education and now I am teaching English as a second language and literacy. My learners are mostly adults of other nationalities as well as UK natives, looking into developing their functional skills or accessing higher education. Both qualifications obtained in Romania, with Bachelor Degree, are highly regarded in the UK and I recommend our nationals not to abandon their education once they come here.
How is life in London? What are the biggest differences between Bucharest and London?
Life in London brings a lot of challenges, especially when you are a working, single mother of two. I am part of a strong Romanian community that migrated massively to the UK. I do not feel at all uprooted because we have many opportunities to celebrate and feel Romanian in London. We get together for all sorts of events, like we would do back home – weddings, christenings, different parties through which we keep our customs alive. Other than that, I have strong connections with the Greek community, through family connections and the fact we live in an area predominantly populated by Greeks. What I like the most about living in London is exactly the fact that we have representatives of all countries and I consider this a privilege. It is cosmopolitan and interesting at the level of mentalities, especially enriching for any human being interested in anthropology, like myself. I am also happy to be able to educate my children in the UK, where they can benefit from all of these aspects and they can grow up open minded as well as confident within themselves.
What do you miss from Romania? What food/drinks do you miss most? Do you visit Romania often?
I go back home to Romania at least once a year, I miss my family dearly, especially my parents, now retired teachers, but we keep in touch all the time. We grew up the old fashioned way, like a very strong unit, and the best of times for me were during my holidays – those spent together with my parents, aunties, cousins and so on. We like to get together for barbecues, eat “mici” and we drink our beer, made in Romania, of course… Ha ha ha! I also miss Bucharest, it is the city I love the most because I have so many memories as a student there and I always feel the same young, enthusiastic professional every time I go back there!