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Living in London and the Pain of Going Home

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Everyone expects moving abroad to be the most exciting unreal experience. They say you’ll meet new people, learn new things and have an amazing time. It builds up quite a big expectation of what your life should be like and how much you should achieve while you’re away. Or perhaps I did a good job of building that expectation up myself. Though I struggled to adapt to the London lifestyle at first, everyone was right.

Living in London I felt like a free and accomplished individual. I had an apartment in a great location close to town, near a brilliant park where I went running after work. My block was one minute walk from the cycle track, tube and bus stops, and too conveniently close to the adorable Sugar Pot coffee shop opposite Kennington Park. I had a great French flat mate who thoroughly enjoyed the Kiwi movies I introduced her to, and I really loved where I lived. My job was the perfect level of responsibility to allow me to continue personal interests like this blog, without being completely mind bonkers bored at work, and I could travel basically whenever my pay cheque allowed. Everything I had ever wanted from a life in London I’d finally achieved and I was on top of the world.

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Brunch @burnttoastcafeldn in Brixton

What I liked so much about moving to London was the opportunity to create a new me. Anything I was dissatisfied with in my previous life I could change. There were no pre-set expectations as to who I was or what I do because no one knew me. Everything was new and felt entirely my own to explore and create. Even just popping out for coffee on a Sunday morning was an adventure because I didn’t know who I might meet or what could happen. My mind was open and ready.

So in the last six months before I had to Brexit, I was a little concerned. I worried I was returning to a quiet, conservative existence and my life would go back to what it was before I left. Having only very recently found my way out of a very treacherous 6 months overcoming OCD, I was worried going home would reignite many of those thoughts and behaviours I’d learnt growing up. I also worried I hadn’t completed what I’d come over to achieve. I hadn’t been to all the places, or met all the people, or experienced all the things and my opportunity to do this was coming to an abrupt end. Plus after three years living out of home, including two overseas, going back to stay with my parents in the house I’d grown up in was a pretty big anti-climax.

On my way to the airport I admit I felt a strange sense of relief. To be going home where life is easy, the air is fresh, the sun is shining and friends have known me for a lifetime was really quite appealing. I think I’d been in serious need of some TLC for a while. So when we finally took to the air over Europe, there was the most magical sunset between the clouds, as if to say, bye Nikki, this is the end of one amazing time, but there’ll be more on the horizon.

My movie moment was short lived as I realised upon arriving into Frankfurt my second connecting flight had been cancelled. Somehow I’d been issued boarding passes as normal so hadn’t suspected a thing, but come boarding time there was clearly no flight to be found. About now is when the waterworks started. I guess it had been a long day or whatever, but it worked in my favour. The lady behind the check in desk must have felt sorry for me, or just wanted me to stop crying. Either way, rather than having to stay the night in Frankfurt Airport, take a new flight to Bangkok the next day, stay another night in Bangkok then finally fly through to Sydney two days later, I squeezed onto a new flight via Hong Kong with only thirty minutes to spare. Hand written paper boarding passes in hand, I sprinted through hall after hall of Frankfurt airport and an eerily empty security checkpoint to board Lufthansa a sweaty smelly mess. Taking my seat near the back of the plane I encountered a slightly nervous, but very excited German girl called Johanna. She was moving to Auckland.

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Johanna and I at Hong Kong airport

After a short interlude in Sydney to catch up with a good friend, I arrived back in Auckland in October 2017. Slightly panicked about having lost my social network and life, I began booking in just about every social event I could see. I’d always wanted to go to Splore Festival so why not now, and Wellington’s Homegrown Festival looked good too, but I still felt unsatisfied.

For a good three months I refused to unpack my bags because “I wouldn’t be staying long”. As soon as I had a job I’d start looking for a flat and I’d be out of my family home again in no time. However two years of neglecting to replace anything of value in favour of spending savings on travel has meant it is taking me a little longer to get back on my feet than I had initially anticipated.

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Emily and I at Splore Festival 2018

Fortunately returning home hasn’t been as depressing as everyone lead me to expect it would be. Of course I miss the fact I can no longer impulse buy a 20 pound flight to Rome for the weekend, or sign up for any number of thinkable events under the sun, and I definitely miss the diverse people I came to know. But when people ask “what’s it been like since you’ve been back?” or “it must be hard settling back into normal life again” I just think, why on earth would I do that?

Yes technically I went away and came back again, but I don’t see it as returning. I’m not going back to the life I used to live. I’ve been away and I’ve learnt a lot from it. I’ve broken personal barriers I never thought I would. I got a tattoo, I learnt I was suffering from OCD and overcame that. So why on earth would I go back to living the life I left two years ago? If living abroad taught me anything, it’s that life is what you make it. So we must continue to live our lives in the way we did when we were overseas, making the most of every opportunity and keeping our minds open.

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Johanna and I at my home in Auckland for Guy Fawkes, Nov 2017

Sometimes I get out of kilter and have to remind myself to make plans with people, go out, live my life. Just because I’m at home doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Also my advice is to return at the beginning of summer if you can. That always helps. And if after everything we still think we preferred life overseas, we can always make a plan to go back. Because if we’re not enjoying life, we’re just not doing it right!

You may also be interested in Is Bristol The Perfect London Alternative?

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