“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
– Samuel Johnson
A week from today is my last day in London. And I’m having trouble coming to terms with that fact. Sure, I’m out of money – my list of things I need to see has dwindled to one or two entries. But I didn’t find London in lists or bank accounts.
The semester I spent here has been the best, craziest, loudest, most colorful chunk of my life thus far (along with other frustratingly vague and equally true modifiers). It’s been characterized by adventure and homesickness and feelings that don’t make sense. That change from day to day. From I love this to I hate this to I think this is okay to Get me out of here to Please don’t make me leave.
It’s been the semester I’m most happy to have left – my home campus has had 79 bomb threats in the past few weeks alone, and kids are being evacuated in the middle of the night. I’ve never had much school pride. It’s a nice school, and all, but my first year was really tough, and I don’t care much about sports. But being away has made me miss aspects of the community I didn’t know I cared about. And if anything remotely, slightly, insignificantly good has come out of the bomb threats, it’s the fact that I’ve discovered my secret affection for the University of Pittsburgh.
“I came to London. It had become the center of my world and I had worked hard to come to it. And I was lost.”
– V.S. Naipaul
Studying abroad is a strange thing to put yourself through. Before you leave, you hear everything that’s ever been thought about the experience. “It will change your life.” “You’ll be a different person.” “Don’t expect too much, and it will be great.” “You might not like it. But you should try to make the most out of it.”
Being nearly completely through it, I can say that all of the above are true to some extent. I probably am a different person. I probably won’t know what to say to people when I get home, and they ask, “How was it? Tell me everything.” And trying to summarize four months’ worth of the most absurd adventure I’ve ever been on will probably spill out as something completely inadequate, like, “It was great! I loved it! Totally amazing! Glad to be home!”
It’s not a vacation. It’s not exactly a dream. It’s real life, but on a different plane of the world. With different people. There were times when I hated everything about London, from its stupid loud buses to its insurmountable crowds to the tube, and how it dried out my contacts and (too much information ahead) turned my snot black. There were times when I sat in the bathroom and cried simply because I had no privacy. Rock bottom exists in other places, too. Stress and fear and sickness happen in England.
There were also things that were so good, I can’t explain them. The realization that you’re physically and mentally capable of being completely on your own in the world is too deep a feeling to adequately express. And there were things that I’m somewhat embarrassed to bring up, because they sound very cliche and I’m a writing major. Climbing mountains and towers. Looking out over cities I’ve visualized in my wildest fantasies. Realizing how few people have seen the spanse of the world that I have. Realizing how much worth that simple fact adds to my existence. Wordy, over-the-top things that are really just words. They don’t do much to capture anything.
“You are now
In London, that great sea, whose ebb and flow
At once is deaf and loud, and on the shore
Vomits is wrecks, and still howls on for more.
Yet in its depth what treasures!”
– Percy Shelley
I found London in the cracks between the bricks in the street. In the constantly changing weather patterns and the overpriced cups of coffee that I happily purchased just to have shelter and internet for a while. I found it in the routines I created, the strangers I bumped into, in the wear my clothes took while they were here.
At its most simplistic, the feeling I’m faced with right now is that I’ve acquired a new lifelong friend. I probably won’t get to see her more than a few more times throughout the rest of my life. She’ll stand where she’s stood for centuries, and I’ll be far away, going about my life and occasionally writing her letters. But she knows me, now, better than I know myself. And she’ll be here, with her aged, stained streets and her marvelous accent and her infinite knowledge, anytime I need her.