Today marks one year since I moved to London.
It’s hard to believe it’s already been a whole year. A year of saying words like “jumper” and “trainers”, of referring to the people I live with as “my flatmates”, of changing the pronunciation of words like “basil” and “vitamins”, of unintentionally adjusting my speech inflections, and of calling everyone – and I mean everyone – “mate”.
A little over a year ago, around the Easter holidays, I was still dithering about the job in London I’d been offered. Things were happening so quickly, Germany felt safe and comfortable, and I just did not want to leave my cat. But eventually I accepted the position, packed up my travelling backpack, got on a one-way flight, and landed in the city I had always dreamed of living in.
The first few days were still full of tears and panic attacks. I have moved abroad so many times now and while the logistics get easier with practice, the feeling of uncertainty when you land in your new home is always there. What if this is a huge mistake? What if I just waste money? How will I get all my stuff back home if I decide to leave?
Luckily, my fears were quickly alleviated, and living in London has been everything I ever dreamed of and more. Of course it hasn’t all been smooth sailing – things like finding a place to live, opening a bank account, and spending unholy amounts of money on housewares and kitchen staples (not to mention a room deposit) can be quite stressful. I also had the added difficulty of my long-awaited trip to Stockholm to see the reunion of Swedish House Mafia falling on the days between the end of my Airbnb reservation and the move-in date of my new room. You discover within yourself a new level of problem-solving ability and resilience when you book two hostels in two different countries at the same time: one for your holiday and one to have a bedpost that you can lock all your belongings to.
But happily, once I settled, I slipped into a life I thought was out of reach with a starting salary in such an expensive city. My first year in London included a summer party on the grounds of a castle, a day at Wimbledon, watching Bayern Munich embarrass the home team in a 7-2 Champions League match in Tottenham, being part of a 170-mile relay around the southeastern coast of England, my first experience go-karting, work trips to four different cities in four countries, sitting in the audience of not one but three talk-show episodes, visits to palaces, finally seeing one of my favourite British musicians live, and countless pints of Camden Hells enjoyed alone or with friends.
On work days I cycle through the beautiful streets of Chelsea, devoid of tourists. I spend weekends walking for hours from my home to central London, admiring buildings and enjoying the buzz of the city. I go to the theatre once a month wearing high street British designers, made affordable by the fact that good quality clothing is in abundance at charity shops. Every time I cross an item off of my London to-do list, I add three more. For the first time I am living in a new city without being too stingy, knowing that the beauty of life lies in the experiences – and London just wouldn’t be London without those experiences.
I’ve been picturing myself writing this post for the past 11 months, I was that confident that nothing could deter me from committing a whole year to this wonderful city. Of course, when I was dictating it in my head I could have never pictured the state of the world as it is currently.
When coronavirus first started affecting the day-to-day lives of Londoners, I didn’t want to acknowledge it in any permanent way. I avoided mentioning it in my daily Q&A journal and felt uncomfortable posting Instagram Stories of my self-isolation. But as I sit here on my 43rd straight day of being at home, it’s clear this has become a part of the narrative of my first year in London.
There are no more monthly trips to the theatre, no more long walks to London’s bustling city centre. Those theatres are closed and the city centre is deserted. All my beer comes in bottles and cans and is enjoyed on Zoom calls in my room instead of from a foamy glass at a pub table full of friends (and the pub is no longer shockingly full on a Tuesday). The only items crossed off my to-do list are the restaurants that offer delivery.
And yet I still love it here. The city shows its energy through Thursday evening claps for essential workers, and social distancing has brought about new levels of politeness among strangers. There’s nothing like the loss of something important to fill you with gratitude – and I am more grateful than ever that I live in a city full of so much life and diversity, with a never-ending list of things to do. I can’t wait for the day I can finally go out again on a weekend, whether that means getting drunk at a bottomless brunch or having tea and cucumber sandwiches. For now, I have no plans to be anywhere else.