I’ve been home for a few days now, and it still feels a little unreal. Not just because of the jetlag, though it certainly plays a part.
For the past six months, I was living and breathing a different culture. And sure, that culture was England, which isn’t anywhere near as extreme a change as some students experienced, but it was still different. There are a lot of little details that make a big difference, especially when they pile up over time, as these did. Politeness, at least compared to the U.S. standards, is ratcheted up to eleven. I’m slowly getting used to not every sentence being preceded by “I’m sorry, but…” or “would you mind if I…?” and so on, as well as the sudden absence of breakfast pastries, tea shops, and other little things. I’m also also getting used to not living alone anymore, which is perhaps the biggest change. I’m very happy to be home, and to have a summer living with my parents again. There’s nothing like British cafeteria food to make you miss the benefits of having family close by, especially if said family can cook.
But I do miss being able to set my own schedule, and having the means to do so. At UEA, I decided what I was going to do every day, and when and in what way I was going to do it. And I could do that. It was easy to buy food, get places, even travel into London on a whim. Public transportation in the UK is at a completely different level from back home. Here I need a car to get anywhere, and cars are usually taken by everyone else who needs to get places more urgently than I need to just because I want to wander. It’s a level of personal freedom I’m sad to see go away, even as I’m grateful for the trade-off.
I think freedom is the right word. Freedom to set my own path, freedom to go where I will, do what I want, and the freedom to experience so many new things that I couldn’t at home. I was on a continent where age can be seen in stones lain centuries before my feet ever stepped across them. I saw castles that were ruins before my family’s line was a twinkle in humanity’s eye. I heard stories that will never, ever leave my mind. Some of them I’m going to make my own. I can do that, and it’s what will let me bring some of this world back with me.
Traveling abroad is a lot of things. I learned how to write poetry, I learned how to structure my short stories better, I ostensibly even learned a little bit about witchcraft, and I started to learn the first thing about being British, starting with a healthy appreciation and somehow also apathy for London. It was learning, it was new things to learn after a time feeling like there wasn’t that much left for me, and it was a reminder that being world-weary isn’t something anyone should ever feel, especially if you’re still young. I learned I have a lot of traveling left to do, and stories left to hear and share elsewhere.
I left, but that awareness isn’t leaving. The next time you travel, I hope it’s the same for you.