In which I reflect on what makes a home and resolve to keep alive my (dis)comfort wherever I live.
On the way home from spring break, my travel buddy and I took a bus from Gatwick airport into London. For the majority of the ninety minute journey, I had no earthly idea where we were. English plains and suburbs, while beautiful, all look more or less the same to the untrained foreign eye. As our bus rolled closer to central London, however, I began to recognize aspects of our surroundings: stations for the London underground; public maps set into pillars upon the sidewalk; red double-decker buses; the River Thames. I was surprised by the emotions that these familiar sights stirred in me – relief, hope, comfort, contentment . . . the emotions experienced by one returning home.
London was never meant to be home. Before coming here, I had termed this my “vacation semester.” Sure, I was going to be sleeping, eating, doing schoolwork, and all the normal life stuff while in London. But more importantly, I was going to be living life to the fullest! I was going to be visiting each museum, eating at all the pubs, seeing every show currently in the West End, developing a beautiful posh English accent, finally going to Hogwarts, etc, etc. I wasn’t going to be bothered by the mundane parts of life.
I look back at those notions and have to laugh at my past self. Although I still refer to this as my “vacation semester,” these past four months haven’t just been a vacation, and they never could have been. These past four months have been part of my life. I have lived here. When people live, they don’t just vacation leisurely. They settle. They develop habits. They familiarize themselves with their surroundings. And this settling, this habituation, this familiarization – this all led to London becoming a place that I identify with.
It’s not quite that simple, of course. I am still acutely aware of my “otherness” wherever I go here, whether because of my accent, my obsession with maps, and/or my inability to keep the many London coins straight. Nonetheless, London is now a place that I am comfortable in. London is now, and I think always will be, my home-away-from-home.
I have developed many comforting routines here, but I have also continually pushed myself into new and uncomfortable territories. Despite my discomfort interacting with strangers, I have spoken to many strangers and stayed with a host family. Despite my difficulty with public bus systems, I have become familiar with London buses (or at least a few of the routes). Despite my firm belief that I am inclined towards the humanities and not the sciences, I took and enjoyed a Psychology class. Despite my squeamishness, I made it through a haunted-house-type amusement park and through an incredibly gory production of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus
(and, okay, I did nearly pass out, but I still lived to tell the tale). Despite my former inability to cook, I have cooked for myself nearly every week and made (mostly) edible things without causing myself serious damage. Despite my distrust of city streets that have no grid pattern, I have become comfortable both navigating London streets with purpose and allowing myself to become lost amidst all the quiet treasures of this city.
Doing all of these things that scare me certainly has not conquered all my fears. Rather, doing these things that scare me has made me aware how thrilling and rewarding it can be to push myself into discomfort. Routines are lovely, soothing things, but discomfort is what allows us to grow.
I want to maintain this attitude when I return to both of my other homes (Seattle and NYC, respectively). I want to keep this comforting sense of familiarity, to enjoy and appreciate the routines of home. But I also want to keep alive the sense that, even when among the comforts of home, there are still things that can scare and excite me. I want to remember what my home-away-from-home that is London taught me.
[image of one of the dragon statues that mark off London's boundaries, taken by me]