I knew before I left New Zealand that moving to London would impact my life. By moving myself so far away from all the things I knew to be normal, I thought I would simply be able to share my fully formed self with the world, and have the world nourish me in return. My coin only had two sides: New Zealand, and everywhere else. I felt an overwhelming urge to leave the small town I grew up in. To be marked as different by the same things which had always marked me as the same. I wanted to be the foreigner, without knowing what that would feel like.
I had been incredibly naïve. I felt clumsy and confused in my new surroundings. Like a child I took my first few bold steps forward, pleased with myself that I was able to do it on my own, only to look back and realize there was no one making sure I didn’t fall. I had put on my mother’s clothes, and now I was meant to be an adult.
It would be a lie to say I don’t feel like I’ve lost anything by going to the other side of the planet. Every time I move I have to start over; high school to university, university to work, work to travel, country to country. The nostalgia I feel for home isn’t specifically for people or places, objects or relationships. It is for gaps of time. I know that things won’t be the same at home as they were in July and August 2015, but because I am no longer there those memories of home, right before I left, are how I know it to be. When I leave London I will miss September and October 2017, because that is my London. There is no right way to deal with loss. There are many wrong ways, but finding the right ones can be an emotional rollercoaster at the best of times. If you are capable of removing yourself in order to travel, you will have accepted without question that you will lose some of your relationships. The most important people in your life could be totally different when you see them next. But I believe that if they are good friends, the time apart will melt away when you see them again. If the love is still there, the friendship will be too. You may need to give extra attention to this when you return. Reinforce your bonds, and that new space in time will become your new reality.
The most common response to “I’m moving to a different country for two years by myself” was “Oh, you’re so lucky.” That’s bollocks for many different reasons. Firstly, I don’t think luck has much to do with it. Apart from the luck and privilege I enjoy from being born and raised in New Zealand (no war, no lack of human rights, full education, a beautiful environment), there is no luck involved. It is a matter of sacrifice and prioritization. I have always been careful about saving money and budgeting, and so when I decided I wanted to travel, I went to the travel agent and booked a flight. From that moment everything becomes real. I would arrive in England with only the money I was able to save between booking the flight and the departure date. I guess it is luck that I don’t have a criminal conviction barring me from travel, or a huge loan to pay off from buying cars or clothes or a new flat screen TV. I have found it hard to accept that different people have different priorities. Some people would rather buy their own house, have their own car, start a family, open a business, or take on more study. That is another reason why “Oh, you’re so lucky” doesn’t cut it for me. My decision to leave takes more from me than staying ever would. I am stepping up for a massive serving of pain, loss, sacrifice and growth. Don’t tell me I’m lucky, this is just the mountain I have chosen to climb.
Recently I got my second tattoo. In the hours leading up to it I was understandably nervous, even though I knew this was what I wanted. I contacted a friend for last minute panic advice, and she told me something that had a powerful effect on me. She told me that this choice was like an extension of my personality; I could either be the girl who is always talking about what she wants, or the girl who says what she wants, and then acts on her decisions. I always want to be the second girl. Of course, putting your money where your mouth is makes you think more about what you are saying! Staying silent longer and thinking about what I really want before opening my mouth, has helped me a lot with my bad habit of quick judgment, unnecessary sarcasm and my all round irritating cockiness. I still have huge amounts of all these traits, but at least I am more self-aware than I used to be. I warn people that I am the living embodiment of Mr. Darcy – my unrealistic expectations of other people’s behavior push me to dislike everyone equally – which usually gets a laugh. I think there is hope for me, as there was with our Mr. Darcy, to change my ways in time.
Of course, just when I am starting to feel like I am finally coming into my own skin and feeling comfortable in England, it will be time for me to go home again. I am slowly but surely falling in love with London, and now I am beginning to dread what it will be like back at home. What I once viewed as a two-year hiatus from my life, now feels like the start of a parallel story that I can’t see the end of. Life’s a bitch like that, isn’t it? There is no pause button. There is no rewind.
I can feel myself twisting in my mould, but I still don’t know what I will grow into.
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