Life abroad and away from home for the first time.
While I was living abroad as an international student, studying for my undergraduate degree, I took a part-time job working in a small shop right off the high street in next to the train station. My shifts would vary, but most of the time I’d work a full day from ten o’clock in the morning until the shop closed at nine in the evening. The job itself was fairly easy, but the days were long and I stood the majority of the time folding shirts or greeting customers.
When we’d close up for the day, I’d walk the short distance to catch the 493 back to university, and that bus ride eventually became a soothing routine. Somehow I’d always manage to get a seat by the window, and with my snug earbuds in place playing a mixture of indie folk music, the scene through the foggy bus glass always turned into a sort of montage. The bus would lurch along the winding streets and I’d peer at the houses along the road, trying to catch a glimpse of what life was like for the families inside.
Occasionally I would imagine my family living in one of those glowing homes. It would make the 3000 unbearable miles that separated us feel less traumatic. Of course, making the huge decision to get my degree as an international student was wholly my choice, but it didn’t make the reality of yearning for my creature comforts any less difficult. Looking back now, I can see how being homesick was part of the process. Having the experience of truly venturing off on my own without any familiar safety nets only strengthened a fierce independence I didn’t know existed inside myself.
At the end of my bus journey, I’d get off across the street from my university. I’d walk up to my flat where I shared a floor with six other girls, all going through a similar experience of being away from home. Some of the girls were local ladies, and others were from different parts of the UK, but all of us were off for the first time trying to figure out our place in the world under the guise of studying for our undergrad degree. We would eventually grow into a new kind of extended family. We took care of each other, and taught each other about our own perspectives on life. They taught me practical things like how to use the public transportation system efficiently, and I taught them my own American way of looking at things, and cultural idioms; things like the importance of sweet tea in the summertime, and encompassing new words like “y’all.”
I learned more meaningful things like the importance of accepting others for who they are, especially in our close living quarters where we shared nearly all things. I was frequently humbled when I would be shown that my way of living was not the “correct” way of living, it was simply different, and that was okay. It was a cultural crossover I could not have learned without packing my suitcase, getting on a plane, and experiencing life outside my own neighbourhood.
There is something to be said for those who are willing to venture farther than their own backyard and see what the rest of the world has to offer. I feel like because I embraced another culture, no matter how much it resembled my own back home, it was a brave exploration into the unknown. It widened my perspective of others who share this grand planet with me, and taught me that I am not afraid to be alone in a city shrouded in mystery.
It is those mysteries that reveal themselves to me even after all these years, despite having graduated nearly six years ago. There are times when I uncover a new lesson whenever I occasionally reflect back on those nights when I was homesick on the 493, and I feel a weight of deep gratitude. I become acutely aware of how lucky I am to have the priceless experience and opportunity to spend three years in a country that so graciously accepted me and educated me – not only on my chosen course to study, but also taught me a great deal about myself and what I’m capable of accomplishing.