A little less than a year ago, I decided that I was due for a change. In many ways, becoming an adult and graduating college was shrinking my comfort zone; I thought the best way to deal with that was to leave that comfort zone all together. As a result, I accepted my admission into a graduate program that was not only unrelated to my undergraduate studies, but was located on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. In retrospect, I hardly gave the decision any thought. It was made on a whim, but then again, I tend to do that. Several months later, I found myself jettisoned from my home of twenty-two years in New York City to a small, dorm-like flat in Wembley, just outside the central London area.
Trading London for New York seems like a pretty even deal. Both are immense cities. Both have predominantly English-speaking populations. Both are financial capitals. Both have extensive public transit systems that I always find myself stuck on for extended periods of time. The list of similarities goes on. But for all their similarities, they have striking differences. Some differences are subtle, like the way Londoners offer the (in)sincere “Cheers, mates,” instead of grumbling incoherent “Thank yous” or the way underground transit is called the “Tube” in London and the “Subway” in New York. Others are much more pronounced, like how there are different brand names for everything from stores to hand soap or how I saw a Maserati parked on the street overnight in London remain undisturbed while someone stole a sixty pound pumpkin from the front of my house on Staten Island. I mean who steals a pumpkin? What I am trying to say is that even though the two cities share many attributes, they have just as many differences.
What does this mean for me, a native New Yorker over three thousand miles away from home? It means I am learning a lot and expanding my mind both inside and outside the classroom. I had a lot of expectations of the world outside of the United States, but many of them were not quite accurate. My world view has shifted to include the idiosyncrasies of Londoners, but, more importantly, it now has an entirely new space for people who don’t share my own background. Yes, I knew that there are innumerable cultures around the world, many of which are far different than my own– I minored in anthropology, after all. But there is an enormous difference between knowing something exists and actually seeing or experiencing it. And while I know that I’m only experiencing one different culture now, I have a greater capacity to understand how wide the world actually is. This is one of the greatest gifts of travel: the realization that there is always more out there to explore and dream about exploring.
The other great gift of travel is the appreciation one develops for home. When I first left for London, I felt like I was leaving for an extended vacation. Now, going back to visit New York seems like the relaxing getaway I never knew I needed. I learned how many comforts I had taken for granted at home and how much I enjoy being with the people that I love. Sure, some people develop an intense wanderlust that leads them to travel the globe for months or even years and others might even move to a new place permanently. But home is a special thing that means family and friends just as much as the place where you keep your stuff. It means you can go explore the world and still have somewhere to go when the journey’s done.
I don’t always love London. Some days when I lose hot water for hours or when I stub my toe on the curb, I blame the English. Some days I just want to indulge myself with Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and all that’s on is Jamie Oliver’s 15 Minute Meals. And those are the days that I remember trading metropolises is not easy. But you don’t trade metropolises for ease, you do it to grow, to learn, and to embark on a grand adventure.