So I have a confession to make…
…even though I love London, and am so happy I decided to pursue my MA here, I still have felt a bit homesick at times.
It feels strange to put this into words. Truth be told, I’ve written and rewritten this post about a dozen times over the past month, unsure of what words to use. I feel like I should say something more eloquent about the past three months than… homesick. And in many ways it doesn’t feel like the right word. It certainly doesn’t sum up my entire experience, but only a small sliver of it. Coming here wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision for me–it was something I actively worked towards for years. This was the culmination of all that work, all that study, all those grainy FaceTime calls with my boyfriend and all those pro/con lists I made in my head. Of course I’m happy I’m here.
But I’m also really excited to fly back to New Jersey on Sunday to see my family and introduce my boyfriend to an NYC Christmas.
And guess what? You can be happy in a new place and a little bit homesick at the same time.
Fellow expats, make it your mantra. Because going into 2019, I’m making it mine.
I’m not sure I realised I was a little homesick until recently. I was able to see my mom last weekend when she was returning from a conference in Europe and it was so nice to catch up–it made me realise that home can be people rather than a physical place. Missing family, friends, familiarity–it’s all part of the process of moving abroad. All the expat blogs and Instagrams I’ve followed over the years seem to say the same thing: no matter how long you’ve lived in your adopted country, homesickness never totally goes away.
But there still seems to be so much baggage attached to the word ‘homesick’. It seems childish, something to grow out of, something cured with a care package full of candy that the counsellors will insist you need to give to them to ‘keep it safe from the bears’ but they’re really just eating it all after lights out (not that that ever happened to me at Camp Hoover). How can I feel homesick? I’m a freakin’ grownup. And I’m living in London now!
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t expect my return to England to feel so… weird, somehow? I felt I had prepared for everything, and I had lived in the UK before, so I expected I would jump right in without any hurdles. But my last time in the UK was in a small, sea-swept city in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by students and a lot of free time. Within three weeks of my arrival in London this autumn, I had a degree induction and a paper due and a job offer. Suddenly I had to sort out National Insurance and a GP and a bus pass and re-entering academia and making friends, somehow? I was excited as hell but it also felt a little overwhelming. It wasn’t the same kind of culture shock I experienced in Exeter. That was mostly summed up by missing Chipotle and getting teased for saying ‘trashcan’ instead of ‘bin’.
Culture shock can make you feel like you’re clueless. You feel like you’re surrounded by people who have every single thing figured out (the supermarket queue, ‘zones’, the fact that you only get one paycheck a month here?), but as general adulthood has taught me, that’s never really the case. The differences between the US and the UK are more than just different spellings. And there are things I never knew about when I studied here three years ago. And things I forgot about. And things that just manifest themselves differently when you’re a grad student at 24 than when you’re on a year abroad at 20.
I mean, I felt independent at Exeter, but I was surrounded by fifteen peers and a Kenyon professor who had led the programme five times already. I had a pretty firm safety net, and I knew I’d be going back to the US at the end of the year anyway. Almost every weekend was scheduled with a pre-planned activity. I lived in a house with eleven first-years who were also eager to make friends. This time around, things are a little more open-ended–I have a longer visa and it’s on me to make my own safety net. I think I’ve done an okay job so far.
Slowly but surely, home, in some fashion, forms. People at work know my name, ask how my days off were. I exchange phone numbers with classmates and we have end-of-term drinks at a cozy pub near campus. I gather to watch the football with my boyfriend and his friends who work in the City (and eat some killer vegan nachos). I better understand the quirks of TfL, standing in the Morrisons queue, and the English need to ferociously apologise for everything (granted, it does make the awkward culture shock moments a little more bearable–I’m blending in!). Little by little, a place becomes home, just as it did with all the places I’ve lived before. And I know I’m not done with London yet.
Today was the winter solstice–the days only get longer from here.
I’m excited to keep figuring London out, whatever that ends up meaning. Thanks for reading for the past three months–hope you stick around.