It was only ever supposed to be a six-month stint. “I’ll be back before you can blink!” I yelled to my parents as I sat in our living room, packing my life’s contents into suitcases and boxes. It was mid-autumn of 2018, four months after graduation, when my Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa had just been approved. I was 19; I had never lived out of home, I had no jobs lined up, I only knew one person in London, I didn’t know where I would live, and I was inexplicably terrified. As my move-out date approached faster and sooner, I began to think of every possible excuse as to why I could no longer go. Less then 24-hours before my flight, in a hotel room in Perth, I shook my brother awake at 1 am and begged him to take me home. “This was a huge mistake. I can’t do this.” I sobbed into the darkness. He sighed, grabbed my shoulders, looked into my eyes and replied, “You’ve got this. If you can just get on that flight tomorrow, I promise you, it will change your life forever.” And it did.
From the very beginning, you are only promised two years. I remember thinking that two years seemed like a really long time, and at first, I couldn’t even imagine lasting one week. Now, I’m less than two months away from my visa expiration date, and it feels like I arrived only yesterday. This city has a peculiar way of making time seem like it’s on fast forward; accelerating at a speed where your days just feel like one long breath. Johnson was accurately veracious when he wrote: “When a [hu]man is tired of London, [s/]he is tired of life.” Morning tube commutes, sidewalk pints at the pub, theatre shows by night, lidos in summer, Europe for the weekend – there’s a plethora of choices that you can sell your time to. “You’ll make more friends, you’ll meet a boy, you’ll find a job, and then you’ll never come home.” This was everyone’s favourite catchphrase to say when I was leaving Brisbane, and each time I would roll my eyes, shrug my shoulders and tell them to keep my seat warm. I made sure to never get my hopes up or make promises to anyone, in the case that I disappointed them, or more importantly, myself. Well, two years later, and you’re all right – I did all three of those things. I fell madly and deeply in love with this city and everything in it, and I never realised just how incredibly painful it would be to walk away from it all until now.
At the time that I left Australia, I genuinely believed that I had met everyone that I would ever need in my life. I had reached my quota on people, and there was no possible way that I could meet a whole new spectrum of strangers and love them just the same. Well, I obviously turned out to be very wrong. As an adult, navigating friendships can be ridiculously complex and awkward. It’s not as easy as bonding over superheroes and favourite colours in the sandbox anymore, instead, you must courageously put yourself out there, susceptible to rejection and indifference. When I finally opened myself up, I was shocked by just how much love rushed in, and how much I wanted to give it back. Colleagues, my morning barista, roommates, the Sainsbury’s manager, my beautician, random dates, friends of friends of friends – all these unfamiliar faces soon became the most important ones I saw. It was Hampstead strolls with Alex, weekends spent with Amy, overeating with Gaby, red wines with Iz, sofa sobs with Beth, and so on and so on. I became attached to these women and depended on them like one does with family. I once read an excerpt from this book that stated: “We all like to think that the people we know and hold dear to us are indeed the most extraordinary humans to exist.” A superior thought to think, but how could I not? I had the strongest women surrounding me; each one becoming my own selfish muse and support, welcoming me into their lives in such a short, fleeting time. It made me hopeful and curious of how many more people I’ll have the privilege of meeting and loving; how many more faces I’ll see and names I’ll be told; how many more stories I’ll get to hear and memories I’ll get to make.
I was almost about to not return to Australia. Things nearly changed in December when my workplace offered me sponsorship to stay in the UK. I went through the entire research process; collecting info from the Home Office and making cost breakdowns on excel spreadsheets. It became a real conversation that I began to have with the people in my life and with myself. Could I do another three years of this? Did I want to live in London longer? What would I be missing out on if I left? Equally, what would I gain if I stayed? I began to seriously visualise myself here for the next three years and went through many inner monologues and panic attacks tossing up between my choices. In the end, it didn’t matter anyway. The sponsorship offer ended up being revoked when costs came into play and my application was 90% sure to be rejected in the case that I wasn’t a ‘highly-skilled’ worker or listed on the UK’s ‘shortage’ job list – i.e any British citizen could do my job. It sucked big time, and for a good two weeks, I became a very sad, bitter little Aussie. I still don’t believe that ‘everything happens for a reason’ , but I do believe in silver linings. Not sponsoring me was the best decision for the business, and I’m sure in turn, it will be for me too. Humans were never meant to stay put. We’re natural-born explorers – hardwired by evolutionary history to move; to live a nomadic life that voyages on wild curiosity and experience. In the past two years, I’ve done more than I could have ever imagined, and I’m so god damn proud of it. The ‘travel bug’ well and truly spread itself through my veins. It bit me hard, and man, did it bite me good. I travelled abroad to 32 cities (16 countries); worked as a social media exec, a fashion writer, and a photography assistant; got two tattoos; pierced my ears five times; moved three times in London from North-West to West, to really West; went on a lot of really good dates, and a lot of shockingly shit ones; learnt the tube map off by heart (kind of), and fell in love with a boy I can’t have in a city I’m being forced to leave.
Sometimes I can’t help but feel like I’m racing against time; a mental countdown constantly chiming in my ears as a reminder that time is nearly up. Nature’s seasons are quick to make sure I don’t forget too. I arrived in London in late April 2018 when the flowers had bloomed and the city was freshly sprung. So, I know that by the time the tree outside my window reaches full bloom once again, it will be time to go. Each day, I have to constantly remind myself to not get caught up in the future, and to bring myself back to the ‘now’; to be fully present in all the little moments, and to appreciate them as if they were the last. When you leave your comfort zone, or your whole life gets shaken up – whether by choice or not – everything you thought you knew about the world and yourself inevitably comes undone. You’re forced to evolve into something new; to grow alongside the changes in your life and the world around you. I’m not the same person I was when I left Australia. How could I be? Every part of me changed – my opinions, morals, style, domesticity, career skills, sexuality, independence. I used to associate this growth and define it as the sum of London. I worried that if I went back to my life at home, then surely that would mean I’d revert to who I used to be – like a maturity version of Benjamin Button. It took me a while to understand that leaving London doesn’t mean losing it. Instead, I get to take my growth, my experiences and relationships and carry them with me forever and onwards. I’m not worried that I won’t ever travel again; I’m worried because I don’t think I’ll ever stop. It’s true what they say – once you’ve lived abroad, the meaning of ‘home’ is no longer reserved to a singular place or person. It becomes this perennial term of infinite meaning; allowing you to define it by an intuitive feeling instead. For the past two years, I’ve been extremely lucky to call London and it’s people my home. It’s nearly time to say goodbye, but that doesn’t mean the end. Really, it’s just the beginning.