There is a 6-hour difference between London and Chicago. 360 minutes are spread out over nearly 4,000 miles. These six hours separate me from my friends, my family, my business contacts… my entire life.
When I awaken to a bright sky and chirping birds, they are sound asleep in darkness, save for some honking cars or sirens. When I get home from a long day, ready to vent about the obstacles I have faced, they’re merely thinking of making it to their lunch breaks. As I fall asleep at night, they are struggling to finish up the day’s to-do list and get home in a timely manner. It’s hard to schedule times to talk or to catch one another at a good moment because of the differences in time, in our days, and our lives.
These six hours are more than just minutes passing. They disconnect us.
I’ve crossed the pond to Europe twice before.
The first time, I traveled with my mom and my aunt. I was 16. I was young. I had no idea how to do my makeup, let alone exist in a foreign city. I was always dependent on someone else, whether it be my family, a tour guide, or a map along the way. I was shuttled from this hotel to that excursion, and we adhered to a strict schedule.
The second time, I studied abroad in Spain. I took a flight over with a classmate, lived with 4 Purdue students, and attended university classes with about 50 others. A mini community came with me across the Atlantic. There was always someone to be around, whether it was shopping, traveling, or just eating Nutella off a spoon while giggling at the Spanish translations of our TV shows.
This time was supposed to be a similar experience. I had three friends that had plans to arrive in London just a few days after me. We made grand plans for cafes to shoot at, tours we wanted to take, and the stores we would shop at. I was well on my way to yet another trip full of familiarity and dependence until a week before I was set to leave, I found out none of those girls were coming. I was all alone.
I have grown far more independent over the past few years. I look back to where I was starting out college and shudder. I was a ball of anxiety and dependence. Even in the last few years, I can see a noticeable difference. There really is something to be said for owning your own business for giving you more determination than you ever thought humanly possible.
That Sunday, I accepted that I was about to be *basically* traveling alone for weeks in foreign countries. My friend was gracious enough to let me stay with her at her London apartment, and though we would be hanging out most evenings and traveling on weekends, she has a full-time job and a life of her own here. That meant every day, I would wake up and be alone with myself, my work, and this beautiful continent. It was up to me to decide what next.
Though it’s put me in some pretty uncomfortable and downright dangerous situations, I am loving solo travel while my friend is at work. I have explored London all on my own, going where I want to go and not where I am being led. I forced myself to get to know people that I probably would never have met had I been with friends from back home. I have spent a lot of time with myself, more than I ever have, in unfamiliar places, where I am the only familiar thing in sight. It’s led me to a lot of reflection and introspection.
There is something freeing about being cut off from your regular life in a brand new city. I have no responsibilities other than the hours I schedule myself to work, so I have been able to have a hard look at some questions I’ve never had the opportunity to pose to myself before.
What really draws me to a place? Is it the people, the aesthetics, the energy?
How do I know where I fit in?
What are my true priorities when I have nothing but free time?
Most importantly; am I truly happy being alone?
These past 10 days have been some of the most noteworthy and influential in my life – and I still have a lot more before I head back to my old life with some new perspectives. I worry I will feel trapped after experiencing this complete and utter freedom to exist, to live, and to be alone in a city where no one knows me.
In Chicago, I seemingly cannot escape my past self. I have no criminal record or major mistakes to run away from; I simply have changed so much since college, and yet people everywhere who I do not know use those four years as a summary for who I am now. It’s one of the downsides of Purdue University being so close to Chicago – people will forever remember you as the girl who over-edited frat party photos. Nearly six years later, my identity has not been allowed to grow past my sophomore year.
I have yearned for a fresh start, a clean slate, a new opportunity to meet people who only know the version of me that I actually like… and here, across the Atlantic, six hours ahead, I have found it.