Leon Hoh

Hoh Min Leong (Leon Hoh) came from Pahang, Malaysia in 1975 at 22, to train in Psychiatric Nursing at Severalls Hospital, Essex. He has continued to work for the NHS ever since and continues to work as a community mental health nurse, after retirement on the NHS Staff Bank. He has two daughters and three Grandchildren.

His story is the inspiration for the Ingat-Ingat exhibition, as told by his daughter Becky Hoh-Hale.

This story includes and is in dedication to Aunty Jenny, Hoh Lan Ying, Leon's cousin who sadly passed away in 2010, a big reason he came and who looked after him like a brother when he first arrived. We miss her a lot.

Her images are collated with love by her two daughters, Tara and Sara.

What was your motivation for coming?

Lack of job opportunities due to the government's discriminatory programme which was skewed towards native Malays rather than us Chinese immigrants. My cousin, Lan Ying (Jenny), who had trained as a nurse in the UK a couple of years previously suggested coming over. She said, I didn't have to pay to do the training. Instead, I would be paid to train and be given accommodation.

What was the process?

I had to obtain a Certificate of Recommendation from the Ministry of Education in my country to certify that I was a Bona Fide student and medically fit. I was asked to be interviewed by the British Council in my country to confirm that all my documents, letter of acceptance from the School of Nursing were in order. In addition, the staff in the British Council ensured that I could speak the English language proficiently.

Did you have to apply for a certain type of nursing?

Chose to do psychiatric nursing as suggested by Lan Ying, as that was what she was doing. I didn't give it much thought, she told me it was more interesting. I didn't know much about nursing, so I thought why not go for it!

Were you scared or worried about leaving home?

Not scared. It was more sadness, to be leaving my family, especially my mum & dad. It was a sad situation for everyone. There were lots of discussions about whether I should leave or stay. But a decision was made that I do my nurse training in the UK as they knew there was little opportunity for me to do well in my home country and that my chances would be better in the UK. It was all quite emotional. I did plan to come back to work as a nurse after I qualified & my family hoped that I would too. But life had other plans after qualifying!

First impressions on arrival?

Amazing and surreal to see so many white people! The buildings were very different and there were black London taxis and red buses which were quite a sight. It was still light at 7.30pm, which was strange to me, it gets dark at 6 all year round in Malaysia. I now realised that I had arrived in England on a August bank holiday [weirdly the same day we did this interview 34 years later!].

Obviously the food was very different. All the shops closed at 5.30pm, it seemed so quiet, at home you can step out any time of day or night and find food being cooked somewhere! I did not know what to expect before I came here , you can say this was a culture shock! I knew I had to brush up the way how I speak as not many English people could understand the way we spoke English back home.

How did you find yourself trying to integrate into English culture - was this met with any resistance?

Understanding of colloquialism was tricky. An older patients said 'I want to spend a penny,' to which I replied, 'oh sorry I haven't got any money on me' And he said, 'No, you bloody fool, I want to go to the toilet!''

Or 'what's your tipple?' I had NO IDEA what that meant?!

I went to the pub in Colchester and bar lady said, oh you look like you're a relative of Bruce Lee, if you are you can have a free drink.' This type of sarcastic humour took some getting used too.

But I would say we had a great life in the nurse's home, with a lot of different people living together and helping each other, great camaraderie, great fun at work and at the nurses home. There was a home warden who was in charge of, a couple of hundred of us trains nurses I think, you met people from Africa, Mauritius, the Philippines, so many from Malaysia as well. We all learned to cook each other's food, and let off steam together at the local social club.

Were you homesick, what did you find the most challenging?

Very. I think most of us were. It felt much worse after I went home to see my family and then having to return to the UK again. It felt like the first time I had to leave them all over again. It took me months to get back into a routine before I felt normal again. I don't feel I have ever got over this homesickness feeling after visiting my family.

What has been the journey that led to you still being here right now?

Well, you either adapt to the English way of life or choose to try and live like you did at home. I chose the former and it took me a few years. Having an English wife and integrating with her family made the process of adapting to the English way of life much quicker.

The idea of returning and settling at home was unrealistic now when we had children. My wife and children would be foreigners in my home country and job prospects remained poor over there. It was obvious that settling in England was the best option. We visited every 2-3 years and still do.

How long did you work for the NHS?

45 years and counting..

Are you proud of your journey?

Yes. Very proud indeed.