Friday, September 23, 2016

Once upon a time in London

My view of London from Primrose Hill a couple days back. (Rachel Poletick/Instagram)
Let's go back in time. Not too long ago or far away. Nowhere very difficult to imagine or impossible to believe. A mystical, magical time nonetheless: September 2012.

This time four years ago, I was in a position not too far off from where I am now. Within the same time zone. In the same postcode area, even. And with a similar goal in mind: fulfilling a dream of living in London (if only temporarily).

Back then I was a student starting a three month study abroad program in the city. As exhilarated as I was, on some level I was also frightened. For the first time I was not only at a distance from my family, but an entire ocean away on a foreign continent. London had long felt like a second home to me, but the homesickness was undeniable and the culture shock was almost immediate.

One of my first days in the country, I asked a server at a restaurant for silverware. That's when I saw something I'd never before seen in England: the blank expression of an apparent language barrier. She asked me to repeat what I needed. I looked at her confused, "Silverware? A fork, knife, spoon?" She corrected me, "Oh, cutlery." And I felt like a baby learning to walk for the first time. I stumbled, and would likely do so again, but soon I'd be at it like an old pro.

The strangeness of moving to a new city on one's own is a special kind of awkwardness. No matter where you're from and where you're going, the learning curve is evident from the moment you step foot in a new apartment or walk down the street looking for the best place to get toothpaste. In one way or another, you will feel lost.

That is where I am right now. Despite the familiarity of my surroundings, the comfort I have with most of the necessities of London life, having returned to spend three months here I find myself running into cultural disconnects: forgetting to switch on the electrical outlets and unplugging my phone only to realize it hasn't been charging the last hour and a half, or watching pedestrians speed through busy intersections and remembering that jaywalking isn't illegal in the United Kingdom.

Other aspects of live here feel so familiar it's like I never actually left (though, just for clarity's sake, I did leave after three months in 2012. Please don't misread, immigration officers!): the paths I would take to get to favorite spots in the city, the aisles where I'd find particular foods at my local Sainsbury's. Some things never leave you.

Most of my week since arriving in this beautiful city on Monday has been spent running errands and exploring places I once knew. While four years is a long time to have come and gone, I strangely feel as though not much has changed at all.

Still, as I venture on into the next few months I hope I do find things have changed, that my perspective has broadened and that my connection to the city is even deeper and more personal. I plan to take this blog along with me in my journey toward discovery. Whether or not I keep it updated every day like I did four years ago, I can't promise. A time machine can only relive the past, it cannot change the present.

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