As an American student studying abroad, returning home almost certainly involves a cached set of questions begging details of weekend traveling, school work and sightseeing.
For some, these questions may highlight what will forever be coined “the best semester ever.” For others, this unavoidable inquisition is merely a disheartening reminder of the intangible – all that’s un-declarable at the customs gate and forever lost in a bustling airport.
In general, these two categories hastily divide American students abroad. Neither one more adventurous nor learned than the other, each leaves with a retrospective recollection vastly different than the other. Both miss the city from whence they came and crave the novelty of a new place, but for each, the nostalgia is of a different breed.
I without question fall into the latter group. Overjoyed and distraught over my time in London last autumn, I’m still wrestling with filing my experience into the Grand Scheme of Life.
Before leaving for London, I was settling neatly into Boston. I had spent an entire year in an apartment that I loved, crazy neighbors and all, and had finally found a comfortable melt of school friends and city friends. So as excited as I was, leaving wasn’t easy. In fact, it was much more difficult than I’d imagined. There was something unexpectedly and embarrassingly painful about the realization that Boston life would, in fact, go on without me.
Somewhere over the Atlantic, between Logan and Heathrow, I decided I was going to spend as much time as possible during my four months in London, well, in London. Dissenting from the on-paper suggestions of my abroad program, I ruled out weekends in Amsterdam, short flights to Rome and trains to Paris.
I was brazenly determined to make at least a small part of London my very own.
It’s no easy task conquering even so much as a block of a city as large and deceptively foreign as London. The language is the same, and the heritage is my own, but the culture is something of an Anglo-anomaly.
On the first official night in our dear sweet London, some brilliant, beautiful friends and I took a roundabout adventure looking for something we never found and ended up somewhere even better. Nestled behind the bright white stoops of South Kensington, there’s a little place where quiet conversations over amber drinks nestle comfortably into themselves. When we’d had enough to drink, we kissed cheeks with the locals and released calm into the cobbled street. It was here that, for the first time, my in-flight decision-making started its loving – albeit sometimes lonely – affirmation.
Slowly, the city seemed to feel less like a secret being kept from me and more like a soul-centric renaissance of myself. Each weekend, as my classmates packed their bags for a fiery 48 hours in Prague, Venice, Dublin, the city, the country, the airspace, the sea, I smiled secretly at my decision to stay.
Little by little, I learned London. I dragged through a daily commute to my internship, griped about the tourists and felt protective of my “regular” status on my favorite hipster-Brit, unmarked-door dance floors. I drank with my co-workers, learned to be quiet on the Tube and made some of the nearest and dearest friends. London is not just a city where I studied, or a city where I stayed – it’s a city where I lived.
While I adored every second, I’m in no place to preach that my travel-less time abroad is the right way. I made the right decision for me. The decision helped me discover exactly what it was I needed to know, needed to see and needed to know about myself.
At the end of it all, this is all that matters, no matter how or where it’s found.