Five years since I arrived at London Bridge station with two suitcases and a one way ticket, full of fear and uncertainty. Today is my fifth anniversary with London. The tenth day of the tenth month of the year I reach five years in this city. So many fives together in the same day to ignore that today there’s something special going on. I bet that little scared girl wouldn’t imagine she would still living in London after five years.
Although, to be honest, back in 2012 I wouldn’t have bet on anything in the world that I would even live in London. Had I been told this I would’ve answered something like “you must be joking, I will never ever live in London, you know I hate big cities”.
Life is ironic: it grants you what you wished once upon a time when you don’t want it anymore.
To be honest with you, my plan wasn’t London. My initial plan was to stay in Austria and maybe find a job as a Spanish teacher in some random academy, for the time being. Maybe meeting a handsome Austrian and live my life like one of those people interviewed in travelling programmes who live abroad and are in a relationship with someone from the country they live in. And I would say “I was an exchange student, we met and I stayed”.
I was truly picturing my life that way, sitting on the plane to Graz that September of 2012. Bless me. They say life is unpredictable, and mine wouldn’t be less than that. So there wouldn’t be any Austrian boyfriend, but an Italian, and fast-forwarding to August 2013 my statement changed to “We met in Austria and I moved with him to London”. Usually, people get struck by the fact that we are an Italian and a Spanish who met in Austria and live in London. Too many cultures at once living under the same roof, I guess. But I like to think that we are the representation of the Millennial generation: jumping from one country to another, dealing with more than two cultures at the same time on a daily basis, facing the challenges of having an intercultural relationship. That’s, in a nutshell, who I am. Culture and dynamism running through my veins.
Going back to my relationship with London, even though my teenage-self would have been thrilled to know I would live in London in the future, my 23-to-be year-old self wasn’t excited at all. By then, she already made up her mind and reached the conclusion that living in a big city was a real pain, so London made her feel everything but excitement.
London was a real pain at that time.
And it took me years to stop feeling London as the city that made me feel miserable, to mend the effects of what experts such as Zhu Hua describe as ‘culture shock’: loneliness, tiredness, loss of control and loss of confidence, among others. My culture shock was as big as London and I had no idea. But in periods of crisis we can choose between two options: either we fight and grow, or we shrink and die. I decided to go for the first option, so after fighting to blend in London’s culture and overcoming my fears, I finally started to appreciate the city and get advantage of everything she had to offer.
I started to grow.
Seen from the outside London is cool, and the excitement of a city full of life can dazzle. I get that. However, once you experience the daily life… we get onto a different story. The ‘London’ brand tends to deteriorate and even though I won’t overuse the typical “London kicks your ass out” or “if London doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” I recognise both of them apply to my personal experience of the city. However, as the term ‘personal’ implies that you may feel something different, perhaps you think London is exactly what you need -and that’s fantastic, everyone comes with a different baggage. However, despite appreciating all the wonders London can offer I can’t help but rage with the renown statement “The man who is tired of London is tired of life”. Are you kidding me? only living in London makes you feel exhausted –and at certain points London can even make you feel tired of your whole bloody existence. Unless you roll on money and are free of worries -tourists are included in this group. Then, I bet London is incredibly exciting. For the rest of us who are working our butts out, you can feel your energy has gone down the drain and blame it on London from time to time.
Besides that, London shapes identity; London is the strict coach who pushes you to the exhaustion to make you learn well your lessons. And you hate her at times because she could give you a break and make things a bit easier. But then, you are able to run three times faster than you used to and feel unstoppable. Once you’ve learned, you can’t do anything but to be grateful.
At the end of the day, life is a learning process, right?
Today is a special day because I can remind that scared girl waiting at London Bridge station how proud she should be, how much she’s learned and that she shouldn’t limit herself because she will get anything she sets her mind to and there’s nothing on the way she can’t handle.