Tuesday, October 16, 2012

In a candy store

One of the greatest things about living in a new place is getting to know all the intricacies of living there over the first few weeks of being a resident. Even if you've gotten to know a city before you live there semi-permanently, you will never quite know it until you've been forced to stay there long term and figure things out accordingly. You will never be fully happy there until you've taken all the available routes and discovered the perfect path anywhere and everywhere.

This issue has frequently arisen for me over the last few weeks as I walk through the streets of London, going from my university to Covent Garden or Oxford Street or Camdentown or anywhere else. It's not just about navigation, it's about larger choices.

There are so many factors.

One is the question of which is the brightest, most beautiful path to travel when you're going somewhere. In other words, how can you make the journey as beautiful as the destination?

Second, what is most efficient? Is one route easier to travel or quicker than the other? How can I cut out trials and difficulty in exchange for something reliable and simple?

Third, how can I combine these two criteria so that I feel settled and comfortable with living in this city? Because there are so very many options - in other words, I'm not just talking about walking to and from a tourist destination, but also figuring out which Sainsbury's is the best or which restaurants offer the best, most worthwhile takeout - every choice becomes significant.

I've discovered that I have to plan everything with this in mind.

Figuratively, this has been a huge struggle for me as I've entered a new life (and way of life) in this city. It's not just about the city either. It's about internal struggle and the difficulties of adapting to new circumstances.

After all, I'm essentially alone in London. I don't have family here. No best friends. No one I've known for even a few years is within walking distance from me. It's all mine to explore (and perhaps even be drowned by).

And I could choose to just sit in a corner and weep over the overwhelming nature of it all. But I won't do that. Because more than I've been placed in a situation with no human resources, I've been awarded an abundance of them.

I never realized going into this study abroad experience what a great quantity of opportunities I'd have. That when I came to London I'd not only be studying under the English university system, but also learning a million other things.

In a month I've gotten to practice counting British money. I've spoken with British people using slang and pop culture that I was previously unfamiliar with. I've learned how to use my wonderful London A-Z map book to navigate around a twisty turny city in which everyone runs across streets when the pedestrian lights are red. I've had to practice shopping in a new grocery store where they don't have Kraft Macaroni and Cheese but they do have off-brand Macaroni with Broccoli and Cheese.

It's such a strange little twist of fate. To think that I had wallowed in my own loneliness at first, forgetting that right before me there stood all these even more fascinating things to discover. What an allegory for other aspects of my life at this time.

The other day I was leaving Covent Garden to return to my dorm after a long day of exploring the area and scoping out the location of this theater where I'd be seeing a play later. As I walked down a long street back in the direction of my neighborhood in London, I realized what a luxury I had in being able to do that at all.

At the time there were a wealth of different options set before me. I could've taken the tube back. I could've taken a cab. If I had known someone with a car I might've called on them. But here I was, walking back in the brisk London air along a street I'd never really explored before, searching for my home.

And I was happy.

What might have seemed comfortable before - the straight and narrow decisions that never veered off of the average, the ordinary - were being challenged. And I was taking on a new experience that will forever stand as one of my favorites during my time in London.

A lot of my greatest opportunities here have been single options out of a group of possible choices. With a city before me that has so many squares with tentacles of streets, so many varied shopping locales, so many monuments and galleries and plays and events to explore, it's a wonder that I get anything done.

But I think the variation gives me hope. And it gives me strength to be more proactive in my life choices.

Maybe I truly make my best decisions under pressure and with a plethora of options. Though narrowing things down has never been my strong suit, I thrive in an environment where I have my pick. And in London right now, at this moment, there is so much to choose from.

Like a kid in a candy store, I will take a bite of everything if I can.

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