For our spring print issue, Leigh-Ann Hewer shared with us her experience of being a welsh student living and studying at an English university. For more than one reason, she now appreciates and starts to explore her heritage more than ever before.
We’ve all heard that saying ‘you can take the girl out of the country but not the country out of the girl’, but I never realised how true it was until I moved from Wales to England. When you’re a Welsh student in England, being Welsh quickly becomes part of your identity, whether you embraced it back at home like I did or not.
Considering we’re not exactly foreigners our accents, mannerisms and general national pride still make us stick out like sore thumbs amongst the English. You can spot a fellow Welsh person from a mile away and doing so means an instant friend! In Freshers’ Week that Welsh accent was a little piece of home. Saying ‘hi’ to someone meant you had enough inside jokes and conversations to last you every awkward ‘waiting for class’ conversation, which was a massive relief. Despite all of the sheep jokes and snorts after our pronunciation of Primark, we had something that the countless English students seemed to lack.
It was this very idea that made me think long and hard about what it means to be Welsh. I’ve always been proud of it, but when I moved to England I became determined to hold onto that part of my identity. I’ve never taken such an interest in Welsh mythology and language quite like I did once I moved.
I learned how to make Welsh cakes, started practicing my Welsh on the daily and every time those jokes came my way I laughed it off. I actually found myself enjoying the playful rivalry I had going with my new English friends. Perhaps it was homesickness that motivated me or the way being Welsh suddenly became an even bigger part of my identity, maybe it was a bit of both, but a great interest sparked and I wanted to embrace the Welsh in me.
The thing about being Welsh is that, after years of explaining to foreigners that we’re not English but still British and that we don’t have an affinity for sheep, we’ve developed a sense of commonality and shared experience. There are traditions and phrases that we can all relate to and laugh about that get completely lost on the majority and it makes us, or at least made me, feel special.
Most of my English friends don’t share the same love of their homeland that I have, at least not until the Wales vs England games (which caused quite the rivalry in my at kitchen – though considering the outcome perhaps I shouldn’t have brought that up). It’s sad to think that most English people I talk to feel like expressing pride for their homeland is rather silly, perhaps because English pride seems to be less connected with culture and tradition and linked more with sports.
Most don’t seem to link their nationality with their identity in the same way that the Welsh do. For example, my North Walian housemate and I looked through old photographs of us on St David’s day in our little red costumes and talked about the funny performances at our school Eisteddfod’s and it honestly made the others unintentionally jealous.
Being Welsh is a proud identifier to me, even more so since I’ve enjoyed living in England. Wales is home, no matter if I choose to stay in England or not. It’s where I’m from, where my parents and grandparents come from. It’s beautiful and vast and it will always hold a rm place in my heart. It’s the sing song accents, the smell of manure and the fairy tale images of dragons that were painted for me as a child.
I couldn’t wait to show my English friends the hunk of beauty that is Caerphilly castle and my little town that reminded them of Fireman Sam. My English boyfriend was rather impressed with the pure size of the building when we were looking up at it, dimly lit under the twinkling night sky.
I couldn’t wait to tell them about the difference between a cuddle and cwtch (a word held dear to any true Welshman who knows there’s something far more sincere in a cwtch) or about the love spoon my Bampi had made for me when I was born; a beautiful handcrafted wooden work of art. Welsh culture is so huge and wonderful and it took my friends to help me realise that.
I think my English friends have begun to realise the importance of Welsh culture in my life and I’d like to think that I’ve helped open their eyes to what it means to care about where you come from. Me and my Welsh housemate were so proud when my boyfriend put so much hard work into playing a Welsh character in a performance of Birdsong he was taking part in. When he belted out the national anthem in its original language, having worked on the pronunciation for weeks, I couldn’t help but grin.
By now Welsh is almost a personality trait; it’s something that I am. You can take the girl out of Wales, but you can’t take the Welsh out of the girl. Ultimately, moving away from home taught me what home really means.
Words by Leigh-Ann Hewer
Leigh-Ann Hewer is a 19 year old creative writing student from South Wales. A book lover from a young age writing has always been her passion.