To Build a Home: My Experience Living Abroad in a Pandemic

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I’ve always prided myself on the ability to pack my bags and travel on a whim without a second thought. I’ve never been one to get homesick, in fact I would say quite the opposite. I have long romanticised nomadic lifestyles. I’ve always loved the idea of going somewhere unfamiliar, meeting new people and calling it home if only for a short while. Sleepaway camps, tagging along on my dad’s business trips around the world, college in a different state, semesters abroad, I took every opportunity to feed my burgeoning thirst for adventure. After my college graduation this past spring, moving abroad seemed like the logical next step. I started applying to graduate programs in London, and finally made the move I had dreamed of since I was a child. 

Don’t get me wrong, moving to London was no easy feat. For the first time in my life, my return to the US was uncertain. I wasn’t just building a new life for myself here, I was building a home for the indefinite future. The first few months were the hardest; unfamiliar grocery store shelves overwhelmed me, Thanksgiving went by without the comfort of friends and family, my phone screen seemed to permanently linger on CityMapper or Google Maps. But then I started to settle in, I no longer had to rely on an app to plan my tube trips, I made incredible friends, my long slew of unpaid internships were turning into paid jobs for the first time in my life, and London became my playground. And then came COVID-19. 

For my entire life, wherever my wanderlust would take me, I knew that no matter what, home was a car ride or a plane hop away. When I moved to London, that 8 hour flight was my safety, my lifeline. As Coronavirus grew from a fleeting New York Times notification on my phone to a fixture of worldwide news, and travel bans were placed on both the US and UK, the life line I had once found such comfort in was cut. I felt an anxiety I had never felt before in my life, it was a voice in the back of my head that grew into a pit in my stomach. I realized I was homesick. 

The first few weeks were hard, I was worried about my friends spread out all over the US and my parents in New Jersey, a growing epicenter of the virus. I woke up every morning with an intention to stay positive and hopeful but despite my best efforts, the pit in my stomach didn’t fade. As weeks went by and it became apparent lockdown wouldn’t be lifted anytime soon, I realized I would have to re-assimilate to a new kind of living abroad I had never anticipated when I was a 15 year old fantasizing of a life in London. 

With my reluctant acceptance of the unknown, my frame of mind changed, and my routine changed alongside it. My mornings now began with an in depth scroll through the BBC website and my evenings began by watching Boris Johnson’s Coronavirus updates on TV. I was quickly learning more about the structure of the British government and how policies are created in the UK. I was learning about the resilience and spirit of the people in London when we opened our windows every Thursday at 8pm to clap for the NHS. I learned that being a Londoner was about more than just a postcode. When I waited in line for my local grocery store, underneath the overwhelming nervous tension in the air, there was an undeniable sense of community, we were in this together. 

While there’s no question that when all of this is over I’ll be hopping on a flight home to see friends and family, this experience has created a connection between myself and this city I never thought possible. London and I went through this together, bonded by a transformative experience we never could have predicted, and it finally feels like home.

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