Sixteen days ago I prepared to board the same big, spacious, movie-equipped plane I boarded in September. I had packed up my little shoebox room, carefully stowed all souvenirs and buried a sufficient supply of British chocolate in my two barely-zipped 45lb. suitcases. On my way to Heathrow, I watched the sun rising over London from the cab window, struggling to keep my eyes open and mentally preparing for the inevitably unpleasant ordeal of checking bags and clearing security in a major international airport.
Although I was crammed with two friends and what felt like twenty suitcases, the hour-long ride ended too soon with tearful hugs and the dragging of cumbersome luggage across the walkway. I could have stayed in that cab forever if it meant staying in London. I would have told the driver to take me down every street in the city, past every monument and through every neighborhood, just so I could absorb my last tiny drops of London’s wild, eclectic, whirlwind spirit.
The plane ride seemed surprisingly similar to my September journey across the Atlantic. Just as I had followed the tiny plane on the screen from home to London, I saw it inch away from London and toward home. But home wasn’t the same home anymore. I remember staring out the window at this stunning Canadian snow-topped landscape we flew over for nearly an hour, and I just felt so… worldly. It wasn’t pretentious or obnoxious, just new.
I’ve been contemplating ways to explain my experience, because all I’ve come up with is “It was amazing,” and although the statement is accurate it doesn’t nearly do justice to three life-changing months. I think it’s been so difficult to describe because I barely knew what I was trying to describe in the first place. So I’ve developed a theory. When I boarded that first plane, part of me belonged to West Chester, PA, part of me to Bloomington, IN, and smaller parts of me to the places I had visited thus far. It was relatively simple. The minute I set foot in London, the parts began to crack and break, bursting at the seams, until suddenly, without my knowledge or consent, those few pieces of me had multiplied into millions.
Each footstep, each cobblestone, each time I scanned my Oyster card at an Underground station, each glance out my window at the fleeting London sunshine on Sunday mornings, each passport stamp, each latte from Pret A Manger, each breath of foreign air, each conversation with each person I met… everything was taking up its own little piece, and I found myself completely scattered across London and the rest of Europe.
All too soon and before I could make sense of them, the pieces flew back together, in no particular order or pattern, to make up a new, jumbled, mixed-up me. The old part of me remained, the part that couldn’t wait to drive to Target with Taylor Swift blasting, wearing yoga pants and a quarter-zip sweatshirt with Indiana University written all over it because the suburbs of Philadelphia, unlike the streets of London, couldn’t care less about my fashion sense. But this new part is what I’m still figuring out, and truthfully I hope it takes me forever to decipher. I want this feeling, although strange and complicated, to last longer than my three months in London. I want to untangle all of the once-in-a-lifetime’s and first-time’s and never-again’s slowly and one at a time.
The process is just beginning, but I am certain of some things. I know without a shade of doubt that part of me is still jumping from cliffs in Wales or belting out “Royals” at Lorde’s debut UK show… part of me is stepping onto Centre Court for the first time at Wimbledon, giggling and squealing as a reindeer tickles my hands with its tongue in search of food, or wandering the museums of Paris with my mom… another part of me is slurping the sugar at the bottom of my mojito on the streets of Sevilla and drinking hot chocolate with a Czech prince in Prague.
What I’m most certain of, however, is that part of me will always be taking endless pictures at afternoon tea with the students who made London more than just a place to visit for a while, waving goodbye to the swimmers who let me feel at home in their pool, shaking my boss’ hand as I pass through the Wimbledon security gates for the last time, and hugging my roommate as I hold back tears and gather my bags at the airport.
It’s all over, and maybe I changed, maybe I didn’t… but I loved it. Every. Single. Second. So, for now, don’t ask me to choose. Because my favorite part was… well…everything.