I have arrived full circle. On exactly this day 9 months ago I arrived in London to an empty, hotel-like room with a cabin trolley and a suitcase as my only belongings. Today I have begun repacking those same pieces of luggage and staring at yet-again empty shelves and bare walls, now reversing the same motions I went through when I moved here. With only 7 more days in London and only 5 of those in my beloved Bloomsbury, it is time for me to make status and find some kind of conclusion to my time as an exchange student here in London, however difficult that might be.
I came here equally excited and scared (ok, probably mostly just terrified!) and although London and especially UCL welcomed me to this place, it wasn’t always easy or struggle-free, especially not in the beginning. Problems with opening a bank account or trying to find a shop not too far away to buy kitchenware, something which at home would have been easily sorted with a passport in hand or a trip to Ikea suddenly turned into complicated tasks that left me feeling very homesick. Because everything would have been so much easier at home and if not, at least I would have had my family and friends there to help me. I don’t think I ever really realized how lost I (and many of my fellow international students) really felt those first few weeks of trying to tread water.
But then I settled in, learned my way to campus, could recognize more and more streets and find my way easily around the city without getting lost when turning a corner. And most importantly, learned to find the chocolate shelf in my local shop! I started recognizing people on the streets as I walked to my classes and I got to know people that I could call up and ask for a cup of coffee or talk to if I was feeling homesick, frustrated or just happy. I owe a lot to my boyfriend who helped me settle in and helped me understand the English ways.
And just as I was scared about leaving home and everything I knew back in Denmark but also excited about all the adventures that were waiting for me, all the amazing people I would meet and the things I would learn at UCL, I am leaving with the exact same feelings of grief and excitement.
I have loved living here for these past months and I have learned so much from the experience, both personally, culturally and academically. I like my life here in England, my new friends and the community at UCL we all belong to and the streets that have become just as known to me, as the ones I grew up with at home. And I will miss all of these things a great deal when I go home because I know I will probably never get the chance to live in Bloomsbury again. And you can only go to live in London for the first time once.
But I am also looking forward to going home, to be with my family and my friends back in Denmark. I want to go to Café Felix with my three best friends like we used to, eat family dinners in the garden while the sun is going down behind the suburban terrace houses and I want to wake up in my old, blue-painted room, where it is quiet and calm, and the noise of the ventilator, the traffic on Euston Road and the general noise of the city will be nothing but a faint memory. Getting a break from city life will be so wonderful.
So what I feel most of all right now, one week before I’m leaving this place, is confusion. If there is just one thing that has defined my life these past 9 months here it is the feeling of ambivalence. This mix between homesickness and thrill, feeling scared and excited, sad and happy. Now these emotions have been turned upside down, reversed, so now I am sad to leave this place but excited about going home, the opposite of what I was feeling when I came. And of course what I have felt the most is the ambivalence that comes from knowing that I now belong to two places. And that’s actually okay.
And in all of this, it is a comfort to know that it is me and not London that is going anywhere. It is not a goodbye; I will see you again soon, London! *
(This was written on Monday the 16th of June)