Six Months In: How Living Abroad Can Change You Unexpectedly

It is hard to believe that J and I have lived over six months abroad. Most days living in London feels like living anywhere else.  We have our work routines, our dinner routines, our errands and weekend patterns. It can all seem a little bit boring, normal, but everyone once in a while, when we are eating lunch at a cafe in South Kensington before going to a museum watching the people go by, it hits me– I live in London. That’s a world away from where I grew up and I am lucky to be here.

That’s not to say that London looks like DC or Virginia Beach or anywhere else I have lived. Or that it acts like it. But people are pretty much the same everywhere around the world and I feel like that is especially true in cities. I am grateful that I can live somewhere new and that it is enough like home that it is easy to get over that initial shock of “I am here and I have no idea what I’m doing.” That shock never disappears completely (I definitely don’t know what I’m doing long term), but its voice blends into the hum of the urban background that I have grown used to–the cars along the street, the British accents in the pubs and on the telephone and, even more so, the languages I can’t understand as I walk down my street.

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When I walked down a familiar street in DC just an hour after landing during my Christmas trip a few months ago, I felt strange…. it felt strange. Almost everything was exactly the same…. new colored lights were installed outside my old metro stop, that new office building was finally almost fully constructed…., but everything else was the same. The same except everything seemed so different as well. The streets were larger so it made it seem there were 50 times as many cars coming at me in directions that now seemed unfamiliar. There was so much space between the buildings. So much variety in the materials the buildings were made of. I wasn’t sure if I liked this street any more. I wasn’t sure if I liked DC anymore.

This revelation was even odder because I wasn’t sure I liked London as much as I liked DC just hours before when I had left it. I had been yearning for the familiar places and faces. Now that I had them (although I adored seeing the faces), it didn’t seem to match up. I suppose I had begun to romanticize my past because I was still so unsure about living abroad. It is difficult to strip away all of your favorite bars, places to eat, things to do, and people to meet up with. All those comfortable patterns and social events. I didn’t want to say goodbye to all of that, I only wanted a different background. I’ve told many of my friends that if I could transplant all my favorite people into London life would be perfect.

The commitment involved in finding new people, places and fun routines in a place somewhat foreign to me is still daunting. I can’t speak for J, but its harder than expected to find my way around. Not physically, but to create those new best friends out of a few people I had drinks with once or twice; or choose a favorite restaurant that I’ll never tire of out of the hundreds available (most of them I haven’t tried or even heard of yet). It was only by leaving DC that I realized how difficult it could be (at least for me) to develop those social relationships without some sort of common glue (college, work, etc.).  I’ve been working as a contractor and meeting wonderful people that could turn into friends, but its not the same as showing up to the same office and people everyday for a year. Everyone knows that eventually my contract will be up and I will move on. I think that is hardest on me… I put in less effort to making friends when I should be putting in more.

No one tells you what adulthood is like. I think its because no one knows. One day, after you’re out of college/grad school for long enough that you can’t really say you’re a recent grad (2 years for me) and it hits you that you must really be an adult now. You don’t feel any different, really. Well… you have more sense, work ethic and patience than you did as a teenager, but you still have no effing clue what you’re doing with your life and there are still the same concerns about your appearance, if people like you, how you can fit in. I’m actually not plagued by all of these things, but my point is that I moved to London and left my support structure in the US. It was then, in a way for the first time, that I realized I had to create my own life.

I can no longer sit back and wait for it to happen. I can’t be passive (written in passive voice…). I know it seems like I just moved to London how can I think I’ve been doing nothing, but I’ve been waiting for “the answer” to my future for over a year. It’s not going to just come because I’ve asked it to. No mysterious voice is going to tell me my perfect job and how to get it or what will make me happiest. Moving to London and away from the familiar faces and places I love has taught me to create happiness, love and fun for myself somewhere new. To start over and thrive (over simply survive). I can’t rely on my best friends from college to drag me out to go dancing or a society event to take me to a new museum. I have to do it myself…. be an active participant in my own life.

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I never knew I would love my family and friends as much as I know I do now that I can’t watch my little sister’s belly grow everyday with my new nephew inside, I can’t hug one of my best friends when she tells me she’s engaged and I can’t express to a long-time friend how impressed I am that he has grown up so much and beaten the odds since graduating.

But London is teaching me to appreciate all of that and more. London (and probably a whole lot of other things) has taught me to depend on myself–not because I need to graduate college with A’s; not because getting a good job is the next step–but because I am the only one that controls where I go from here. Not what society tells me is right or what I used to think was my dream, but what I think and feel now.

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This got a bit more deep than I expected (I guess that happens when you don’t blog for months), so thank you for making it this far. I plan to do a few more fun London reflection posts. I’m not sure how many, but I know I’d like to outline what I love and don’t love, what is different from here and the other places I’ve lived, and what I’d still like to take advantage of while I am here.

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