So, it seems that I have been living and working in Sydney for months now. Where did the time go? However Sydney isn’t my first rodeo.
After secondary school I went to Dublin to spend a year at an EF school. This helped me casually use proverbs like “life’s not all beer and skittles” and got me speaking with the slightly Irish accent that university later had to smack out of me for not being close enough to the fancy English that seemingly only the Queen, BBC reporters and non-native students of English use. It also taught me that even the worst homesickness cannot taint superb memories – even though at the moment it may seem like you are never going to be able to get over that desperate longing for your friends and family. When I look back upon the times I had in Ireland I don’t for a second regret staying around and battling those feelings that were trying to stop me from having the best possible time (or, as the Irish put it: good craic). They furthermore got me completely hooked on having friends from as many countries, cultures and backgrounds as possible
In 2012 I went to Brighton to experience student life in England. I spent a fortune on pub visits and Sunday roasts, learned to accept that beaches don’t necessarily need to be be coated with comfortable sand but can just as well have bruise-inducing pebbles, and expanded that earlier group of international friends with a new load of amazing people. This time there wasn’t even any homesickness to somewhat dampen my ecstasy about living abroad and I loved every minute of my stay and every street of that city.
In between that and my next trip, I kept up with the international life by being a mentor for Erasmus students coming to Nijmegen, because the need to form friendships with people from all over the world is basically as addictive as crack (or so I imagine).
Finally, in December 2015 I came over to Australia to work as an au pair. It took me a while, but I eventually found out that there are indeed places in the world where grey isn’t the normal colour of the sky and where you don’t have to compromise on style when you buy shoes because you actually really need them to be able to withstand at least 2 centimeters of rainwater. 3rd time’s the charm I guess! And even though I was concerned about that old homesickness coming back to kick me in the ladyballs now that I am so far away from home that nobody could plan/afford a visit, it hasn’t happened at all. Now of course I partially have technology to be thankful about that; because of the wonders of Facebook, Skype and Whatsapp (and especially Whatsapp group conversations…. Sweet lord, those group conversations…..) I don’t have to miss a thing from the lives of my loved ones. However, even more important is the fact that once again I have surrounded myself with the most amazing people to make this travel even more meaningful.
No matter where you go, who you are with or what you do on your trip – you may be puffing down the East Coast of Australia with your SO in a romantically rusty old VW van, you may be building a school in Africa, working in a hostel in London, or you may be hiking down Antarctica in your quest to high-five an Emperor penguin – there are 2 things that all (longer) trips have in common: you are going to leave and, at some point, you are going to return.
[title maintitle=”” subtitle=”1. The leaving.”]
There you go, the moment you have been working towards has finally arrived. For months it seemed as if time was standing still and your departure date wasn’t getting any closer. Then, all of the sudden, the calendar jumped off the crooked nail holding it to the toilet door and punched you right in the eyeball. YOU ARE LEAVING IN A WEEK. Time to ponder whether you should bring at least one pair jeans instead of packing 50 CDs (yes you should). Time to run over to the city centre to purchase some emergency stroopwafels. Time to start thinking “this will be the last time I…..” at the most mundane things. And time to say goodbye to your friends and family. Now, unless you have the sort of social life that would be befitting the Jerry Springer show, the last one is always going to be incredibly tough. However, I have learned from those 2 earlier long-term trips that when you get back home, it is going to basically feel like nothing changed at all. Yes, of course, friends have new jobs/relationships/homes, but it is incredibly easy to fall straight back into your old life and pretty soon those people couldn’t care less about the fact that you lived in Australia for 8 months (or gave a solid high five to a emperor penguin) and they just want you to please, in the name of God, stop starting your sentences with “when I was living in Australia…”.
Furthermore, the city you go back to will still feel the same since you can easily get used to that McDonalds that has taken over the building that used to be your dentist and the hipster cafe that has taken over the building that used to be a McDonalds. At least your friends are still around, and your favourite bar is still in operation.
Knowing all this makes leaving a bit easier.
[title maintitle=”” subtitle=”2. The returning.”]
Now the return is actually two parts. First of all; you get excited about returning to all of those things you left behind and start planning what you are going to do with your homeboys and family when you get back.
Secondly: returning only means saying a whole new round of goodbyes, this time to your new friends, substitute family and temporary hometown. The problem here being that things will NEVER be the same if you ever come back to this new city you have been calling home. If you do, you will most likely be stuck in the limbo between being an inhabitant and being one of those aggravating tourists you hated being compared to during your stay. You no longer have a house or apartment to stay in, you don’t have a job or studies, and – and this is the big one – feeling at home somewhere is mainly based on the people in that place that accept or even love you and choose to spend their time with you. When you are travelling, most of the friendships you start are with other travellers, which means that those people will no longer be in that city when you have finally found the time and money to go back. Which in turn means that you can never truly recreate the vibe you had when you were living there. That knowledge makes leaving to go back home or continue travelling hard in a different, more melancholic, way.
Furthermore, it is quite possible that when you get back to your “old life” you find out that while everything is essentially the same, you yourself have changed. And you find out that from the moment you decided to start travelling and forming friendships with people from all over the world you were doomed to forever be walking around with tiiiny little bits of your heart missing. Because while most of you is back, those pieces are still stuck in, for instance, Dublin, Brighton and Sydney.
And now here I am. I am 25 years old and I have friends and acquaintances in enough countries to be able to plan a trip around the world and meet up with people in each place I stop. I have snippets of information that you won’t pick up on Discovery Channel about different countries and cultures floating around in my brain. I don’t even know how many different backgrounds have influenced the English I now use, but I love that all of them have found a spot in there to chill and I love that I speak it every day. It may not sound anything like the Queen but it represents the – if I may say so myself – fucking MAGNIFICENT choices I have made in my life (and the Queen’s English can use some sprucing up anyway. Seriously: get with the program, G).
Most of all, I know that the friends I have met during travel may not be my friends for the rest of my life. Most friendships have withered and some haven’t even survived a month of living in separate countries, but all of that doesn’t matter in the least. If you were my friend while I was travelling, you will forever have a spot in my preverbial heart, even if we never speak again, because you were one of the people that gave me a home in another part of the world. And that, my dear people, is pretty damn special.