It feels like yesterday, when I left my house in Leon (Spain), went to Santander, took a ferry and started a new chapter of my life. This was 16 years ago. After seasickness from the ferry and struggling to drive on the other side of the road I went to the Official Veterinarian (OV) course in Bristol.
Why did I choose to do this? I was trying to earn some experience in the field of Public Health and also improve my English. However, nothing prepares you for what you get during your first months working as Official Veterinarian.
My role working as Official Veterinarian for Foods Standards Scotland (FSS), has been to verify that the Food Business Operator (FBO) under my supervision were in compliance with the relevant regulations, and I have been involved in different activities, like official controls, verification audits and unannounced interventions.
Despite my good technical knowledge achieved during my qualification at University of Leon, I was lacking two things and that was not going to make my life easier: language and work experience.
In Europe, we are taught a clear, lacking inflections and accents, English language which in fact is very different to what people use daily. I cannot stress enough how important it is that all professionals coming to live and work in UK achieve the necessary competence on spoken English prior to move to the UK.
I was also lacking work experience, which made the working environment seem a struggle, as for an enforcement officer a fine balance was required between educating the FBO and enforcement, to effectively tackle non-compliances.
Lesson learnt: newbies definitely need additional support, as it is not easy to go from the ideal world of the university to the real world that you would have to face dealing with FBOs.
At that point I was not ready to continue my career here and I decided to go back to Spain and work as Technical Manager for the poultry Industry. And then, comparing and contrasting, I started to really appreciate all the good things that the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) gave me in UK: a career path, good working conditions and good training and development opportunities.
From the very first days working as Technical Manager, my OV training kicked in and I became a vital asset for the plant, as I was able to clearly identify and describe the risk that the company was taking and quote the regulations they were in breach of. I still remember the face of my manager when I gave him an OV-style letter regarding an issue that had to be resolved!
Things were going well but unfortunately my employer decided I was too expensive, and they did not renew my contract. Following that, I worked for a while as a food safety consultant, but that did not give me the stability I was seeking for my life and so I decided to contact some old friends and guess what?! I was offered a position and returned to Scotland!
During my fist night in Glasgow, I was thinking that was the first time in a while when I was actually fully unpacking my suitcase, having spent 2 years commuting between Madrid (where I worked) and Leon (where I lived).
I am not going to say that these have been easy years. I have changed from MHS to Food Standards Agency and then to FSS and being transferred to a new employer more than twice. But the truth is that I cannot say a bad word about my experience and I have enjoyed every step of my journey.
Have I encountered problems? Yes, plenty indeed, but I know now that they were due to the nature of the work and also the human factor. Human relations are not linear, and sometimes you are right, sometimes you are not, sometimes you have to be managed and do not like it, and sometimes people around you make mistakes. However, not a single time over these years I felt lacking support, and this created a sense of family, of belonging. I cannot praise enough most of my managers. Sure, there have been disagreements and even heated arguments (they would not allow me to lie! ) but they have been right next to me when I needed them.
I feel that it is also of value to note FSS approach and ethos towards diversity. Everybody is treated with respect regardless of race, religion or any orientation. Also, every effort is made to cover personal needs and circumstances.
To close this off, if I was 16 years back in time, I would still decide to develop my career in the same way I did. I think that these years were really worth it, although new starters (especially colleagues from other countries) will need to bear in mind that they need to make an effort to understand and accept a different culture (language, people and environment).
Things may not always be like the James Herriot books, but I am convinced FSS is a good place to work and I hope to have a challenging and satisfying career here.