Almost five months ago, I walked into Pooley House #42, Westfield Way, London E1 4PU for the first time. It was a bit before midnight, the air was cool and damp, and I was severely jetlagged after a long journey across the Atlantic Ocean. Pooley House was quiet and dark, and my first thoughts upon entering the hallway of #42 were that first, it looked like a hospital coridor and second, I hoped that I wasn’t going to wake anyone up. There was an eeriness to the closed doors–eight in total–that separated me from potential strangers and potential friends. Or no one at all.
As the semester came to a close, Pooley house returned to this state of eeriness, but this time because I knew that no one resided behind those doors. Our numbers dwindled as the days went on, with permanent students moving into their new apartments for next year and associates like myself jetting off to their home countries. It was a shock when one of my closest friends left for Spain and I realized the vast uncertainty surrounding our next meeting. His door, directly across the hall from mine, would never open for me again. Now that I am back in the States, even the doors are mere memories.
I couldn’t tell you now why I decided to come to London, but I do know that I never expected the experience to be what it has been. The hardest part hasn’t been the moving in alone, making friends, or doing well in class–it’s been the goodbyes. It is cruel for students to live together for a semester or two, make friends and grow fond of one another, and then be separated by airfares and oceans suddenly and indefinitely. It is also completely worth the pain. Studying abroad has been eye-opening in the best way: the unexpected. I’ve grown into a more open-minded, confident, and caring person because of it. I understand more the extent of my privilege and what it’s like to be a foreigner for an extended period of time. I can only grasp at the things I haven’t experienced, as the world continues to surprise me and my travels change my perspective. There’s so much I wish I could do and so much I know I’ll be able to do in the future. There’re friends that I never imagined I’d make and people who are so different from me that I’m amazed I’ve gotten on with so well. What I define people by has changed entirely, and I’m not even sure I can define anyone anymore. We’re so much a product of our experiences, and our experiences have the potential to vary so completely, that what connects us can be one of an infinite spectrum of aspects. I am overwhelmed that our world is so beautiful.
When we were in Portugal, new friends Ines and Tita explained to us the concept of Saudade. Saudade, I remember them saying, is like longing, like I long for you and wish you were here, but you are still here sort of, in my heart. It’s a beautiful sentiment, and it’s one that I’m surprised matches my heart as I type. I could write forever about the adventure of the semester, and I’ve said what I will about the craziness and fun, but beyond the monuments and beaches I long for the people, the friends that at the beginning of this year were perfect strangers. I can’t begin to convey my love for them, and I just wish completely that they were here with me and not thousands of miles away, across borders and timezones. I’m afraid of forgetting any detail of this semester. I’m afraid that I’ll feel this longing for the rest of my life, and I’m also afraid that I won’t.
It’s worth it. Studying abroad, leaving familiarity for a new life, making these connections and seeing the world is so worth the awfulness that is goodbye. There was so much good, and I’m still in awe that it even happened. It sucks that things have to end.
I wish that when I write “study abroad is the experience of a lifetime,” it could properly evoke the emotions I’m feeling now, but it can’t. It won’t. It’s a blanket statement expressed by those of us who can’t begin to put into words the sheer awesomeness of this life and these times, and who can just hope that others make the same decision and come to the same conclusions. In a way, we all have full lives with experiences and thoughts and memories and emotions. I just now understand that the more you see, and the more you do, the more your world opens and your opinions evolve to encapsulate a slightly larger fraction of the human experience.
Friends in London/Europe, I miss you. You are all phenomenal, and I wish you all the best. Some of you I’ll never see again. Some of you I already know are coming to live with me in the States (Bronwen, I’m holding you to it!). Each and every one of you made this semester what it was, and I appreciate you endlessly. I don’t think I adequately conveyed to anyone how much you meant to me, so just take whatever image you had in your head and multiply it by a decent amount. And then some.
I guess I won’t get much sleep for the next five years. Excuse me while I work crazy numbers of hours to save up for my next trip across the Atlantic!
Goodbye London, and thanks for the memories.
The first of many hard goodbyes. I cried a lot.
[Hamza, Dave, myself, Yasin, Alvaro, Bronwen, Brady–a few of my favorite people]