Three Weeks in London

I have a confession to make about moving to London: it was difficult.

This is something that was hard for me to admit because I was convinced that I should be having the best time as soon as I stepped off the plane. This inaccurate impression was formed by two different factors: 1) the small group of people I talked to before moving abroad and 2) the social media which I consumed daily. Social media, specifically Instagram, showed me friends, and even strangers, having the most amazing travels around Europe, studying abroad, and experiencing new places. I imagined everyone who got here made small, close-knit circles of friends within hours and that the bar hopping and fun nights started the day they arrived. What I failed to glean from these shiny and edited photos was that they were not an accurate representation of the entire emotional spread of how people feel. They were only published online because they portrayed the very best moments.  Maybe I wasn’t the only one not having the best time right away? Having realized this, I looked at my own Instagram feed. I had posted quite a few photos since I arrived in London and they were all positive portrayals of my short time here. Of course, I didn’t want to show or admit that the first two weeks were incredibly hard –why would I want to do that? Instagram is not the place to share that sentiment. I had wanted to continue the trend that it’s all fun and games and that “going abroad was absolutely the best year of my life.”

If you have ever spent more than a couple of hours with me, you will likely know that without fail, I worry more than I should. I hype up even the smallest thing into an enormous problem. Due to this terrible habit, no matter how prepared I was to move to London, I knew that stress was inevitable. Are my bags going to meet the requirement? Did I fill everything out correctly on the form? How am I going to get my bags to the Airbnb? Will I make friends? Will I find somewhere to live?  The anxieties that I had were endless. I had thought that if I planned with enough color coordinated lists and agendas, everything would go smoothly. This belief was setting myself up for disaster; no matter how things played out, it was never going to meet my unrealistic expectations.

In addition to the stress I experienced, I also felt another emotion: loneliness. I didn’t have friends (yet) to get drinks with at night or chat over a bowl of icecream. I was staying in an Airbnb, and although it was in a prime location, I wasn’t motivated to go out on my own, relying heavily on cutely named British cereals like Shreddies, to combat boredom, laziness, and loneliness while flat hunting online. Despite the fact that I was able to learn to sit with my loneliness in the past, I had to relearn the skill in a new city. The “loneliness” I felt in college was entirely different. During my four years at UPenn, even if I had a meal by myself, I knew that later I would meet up with friends or run into acquaintances on the walk home. In essence, I was never alone. Here, in London, I experienced a much more visceral type of loneliness – one where I knew that I wasn’t going to see a familiar face anytime soon. My family and friends back home were in such a different time zone that I had to wait until late hours in the night to talk to anyone. The only other time I knew as few people upon arriving in a new location was the beginning of freshman year of college, which seems like a joke now. During freshman year you are thrown into a group of peers in which you are required to participate in exhausting and annoying “get to know you” games until your friendship is finally solidified singing drunk renditions of popular songs in gross fraternity basements.  Although I could have lived in student housing much closer to my university in London, I knew even if finding a flat in the city would be stressful, I wanted a different experience than freshman year dormitories. I was prepared to find my own place, find new ways of meeting people and making connections, but it still didn’t feel easy. I’m supposed the be the girl with the plan, why wasn’t everything going according to my exact plan?

I think one afternoon that I had accurately sums up my frustration during my first week. It started with a two-hour, six-part phone call to my bank account in the United States in attempts to wire payment for a flat I had found. The good news was I found a flat and someone to live with; the bad news was the wire could take up to three weeks to clear. I hung up the phone in tears, worried and discouraged. By 6 pm, I had deemed it was necessary to get out of the house and eat something that didn’t consist of sugar coated carbs. I google searched the best places to eat alone in London. After awhile of online research, I found a Thai restaurant in my area and decided to check it out. I kept telling myself: This is going to be good for you. You can have a meal alone. I used to eat alone all the time in the states and rather enjoyed it, but something about being in a new country made me scared to do so. I felt like everyone knew I was foreign and would secretly be judging me as I ate noodles by myself at a table set for two. I walked by the restaurant and bailed last minute, looping back around to my Airbnb. Everyone had been sitting with other people and chatting about their days and experiences, and I had no one.  Determined to not have the evening end in complete failure, I decided to stop for a glass of wine at a coffee shop/ wine bar near on the way back. Unfortunately, the  shop only took certain credit cards and cash, neither of which I had on me.  I went home defeated, only stopping at Tesco to get a bottle of water.

During my stressful first week, I shared my feelings with only a few people. Every time I would vent to someone I got the same response: “It will be okay.” This was not what I wanted to hear — not because I didn’t believe it, but because it made me feel guilty.  Deep down, I knew that nothing was terrible and it would all work out. I had a bank account with money (albeit American), and if need be, could extend my Airbnb or get a hotel room. Was I that spoiled that I couldn’t move abroad and make friends? I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t enjoying myself. I was so privileged to be able to have this opportunity and knew that I should be enjoying every moment. In spite of the fact that I had only been in the UK for a few days, I felt like I was wasting my experience. “There isn’t even a language barrier, come on,” I thought to myself. “I don’t have an excuse.” I took every moment to scrutinize myself for not trying harder, or joining more Facebook groups in attempts to make friends.

As per usual with most of my concerns, everything worked out, and after moving into my new apartment I immediately felt a wave of relief.upon moving into my new apartment, I felt a wave of relief.  It then became glaringly obvious that I wasn’t allowing myself to admit my pitfalls during my first few days here.I recalled a phrase that was particularly poignant during times in college when I was struggling: It’s perfectly okay to admit that you are not okay. I needed to allow myself the time and place to adjust.   Moving across a state is often tiresome and frustrating, so moving across the pond was allowed to be difficult. It was okay to feel lonely, and if nothing else, I could use that loneliness as a catalyst to help me meet new people and try new things. The worst thing that could happen was someone didn’t want to be my friend, and if that was the case, then I was no worse off than I was in the first place. I don’t need to feel guilty about struggling for a few weeks when I still have the rest of the year to explore when I am finally in the correct mindset to appreciate the experience to it’s fullest.This weekend, I met up with a friend who is studying abroad in London who still goes to my alma mater back in the states. It was so nice to see a familiar face and skip all the repetitive formalities of meeting a new person. After talking to her, I recognized that she was having difficulties adjusting as well. I would have never known this had we not met up, as her social media (much like mine) showed her smiling at tourist attractions and with new friends.

In a previous essay,  I had written about my personal struggle with appearing and being happy, but didn’t think to apply it to this situation until recently. I had just assumed that since I was in a new place, it was necessary to adopt a new way of living and meeting people.  London is no different than Colorado, Philadelphia or New York when it comes to giving myself permission to not be 100% all the time. I have to treat this move like any other experience. Now, three weeks in, I am more than ready to have one of the best years of my life, and it is okay if I take that at my own pace.