Dedicated to teaching English today, Jaime Flórez has spent more than half of his life living in the UK. However, in the past, he worked as a translator, bartender, motorcycle courier, and cleaner. Today he talks about how he zigzagged through life.
Marcos Ortiz F.
The day Jaime Flórez left his native Colombia to study English in London, he never imagined what lay ahead.
It was September 1984 and at 28 years old he left behind Medellin and his studies in engineering. “I thought I spoke a little bit of English, but then I came to the UK and I realized I didn’t,” he recounts, 32 and a half years later.
“I came here wanting to study English. I didn’t come to the UK looking for a job, even though I knew that I would have to work to support my studies. I wanted to explore Europe and the most viable country for me to live in was England,” he adds.
His initial plan to stay in the country for 3 months was extended by 3 more. “And then I realized that I needed 6 more months in the UK and before I knew it I had been in the country for a year. I was excited about how I was learning more English so I stayed one more year after that.”
Fortunately, the ease with which he learned this new language was not affected by the difficulties he experienced during his first couple of jobs. “At first I worked as a cleaner for a month and a half and then in the kitchen of a restaurant for another month and a half. I didn’t do very well because I wasn’t very good at these jobs. I wasn’t very successful. I worked very hard, but my bosses weren’t satisfied with my performance and they both sacked me,” he recalls today.
He had better luck as a barman in a pub, where he was able to work for 6 months. Later on, he would work for 5 years as a motorcycle courier, delivering and collecting packages and letters.
“It was excellent there. I loved the job, I was very happy getting to know the country and London. And they paid me. I was self-sufficient. I worked six or eight months a year and then I would go travel or study”, he says.
After losing his interest in the continuous tours on two wheels that came with the job, Jaime decided to become a translator as well as hold Spanish classes, and for years taught adults of all nationalities the language of Cervantes.
In London, he had already studied audio engineering, but at this new point in his life, he decided to enrol on a Spanish and Latin American Studies course.
It was after this new adventure that Jaime visited the now-closed Holloway Prison every week for five years, where he worked as a Latin American culture teacher.
But his life would take another turn. “After translating and having taught Spanish for a long time I took an English Language Teacher Training course and started working as an English teacher in many schools. I taught Asians, Africans, Russians, Czechs, all sorts of people”, he explains.
Jaime looks back over his life sat behind a computer in his own English academy that opened last summer.
Under the arches of Elephant & Castle station, about 40 students from Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Somalia, Spain, and Italy arrive every day to attend his academy.
All of them come with the same enthusiasm that he arrived with on that summer day in 1984.
Jaime feels at home. However, he does not forget his roots. “I go back to Colombia every five years, so not so often,” he explains. And he adss: “Whenever I go it’s a pleasure. There’s a lot of progress, strength, initiative, and will to live in the country, but it’s still difficult for me because I’ve already gotten used to and settled into the UK.”
“I miss the country in general. On an emotional level, I miss my friends and family. But I also miss the places, colours, smells, and geography. I still belong.”
Jaime Flórez, now 61, concludes: “Every day I imagine going back, but it never happens. And it may never happen.”
(Translated by Shanae Ennis-Melhado – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)