After I expressed to my mom that I was unhappy and overwhelmed in London, I am pretty sure that she sent out a mass email to her friends asking if their daughters or sons knew ANYONE AT ALL in London, because all of a sudden a friend of mine reached out and introduced me to a male friend of hers (via email) who is also studying in London. We had coffee, albeit awkwardly, and he told me one of the wisest things I have ever heard: “You really have to like having yourself as company.” So, I have tried to take this and run with it.
My therapist, my parents or people who had/are having the “best experience abroad” and loved/are loving “every second of it” may try to tell me to just go out and do stuff, meet people and have adven-tures. I have certainly made an effort to do such things and have seen the things I’m “supposed” to see, and in doing so I have learned the difference between being lonely and being alone. I am often alone here: I go for a run around the neighborhood, cook dinner by myself, wander through an exhibit at the National Gallery.
I am usually content doing these things alone, because it is quiet, relaxing and ultimately easier than trying to meet up with people just for the sake of meeting up with people. I have made this semester about living on my own: cooking, cleaning, fending for myself and filling the days with hobbies and activities that interest me (because there is minimal school work to be done).
However, this can feel quite lonely when I realize how few companions I have in this city, or try to reach out to Colgate friends and potential London friends and do not hear back. I know I should be pushing myself to do things instead of lying in bed watching “Dexter,” because if it feels just as lonely to explore a castle as it is to read OpEd articles in the New York Times, I should probably go see the castles, right? But what does “do things” mean? Day trips to Stonehenge? Sitting in a small caf?e reading? Going for a walk? Reading the newspaper? Everyone seems to have a different opinion. Some say I should do things that I can only do in London and reading in the park is not unique to this metropolis. Some say to pick one thing a day, so I have tried to do something every day, even if it is exploring a new restaurant recommendation. It doesn’t have to be one of London’s most popular monuments or tourist sites, just as long as I get outside I feel productive.
Sometimes I feel like I’m abroad in New York with the plethora of options in this city. Being a foodie makes choosing a restaurant here impossible; being interested in art means having thousands of museums to choose from and trying to understand every painting I see. Like New York, London is a melting pot, without one distinct culture (unless you talk about the “posh” girls wearing dark lipstick and tights with shorts). I never thought I would say that I miss the small town of Hamilton, because at school I yearn for a city, for experiences outside the East Coast prep world, outside fraternity parties, outside Frank Dining Hall. Now that I am living in a city, I miss having only a few restaurant options, few going-out options, a pretty steady daily routine and recognizing nearly every face on campus. Sure, the anonymity in London can be refreshing after feeling claustrophobic on the third floor of Case-Geyer Library. But I miss the act of seeing a face more than once, even if the face is an unwelcome one. Perhaps we yearn for whatever we can’t have, and our surroundings dictate what we wish we were experienc-ing, eating, seeing and doing. I didn’t go abroad with 16 Colgate guys and girls. I went abroad with 13 (classic) and I really only hang out with one.
I didn’t go abroad with my best friends. I will not come home boasting of my amazing ex-periences and how great this semester was, but will explain how it was difficult and educa-tional (in a non-academic way). Instead of eating gelato, soaking up sun and going out ev-ery night to the local bar, I am learning to cook, watching Dexter, beading necklaces, reading, traveling with friends and learning how to be on my own. I am not meeting tall, dark and hand-some men, and for once in my life, I am happy being single. I am learning how to like having myself for company.
Contact Becca Atkinson at [email protected]