I had a good dose of reality on Thursday. I was in Cardiff for the day doing interviews for my Master’s degree. And if you remember my earlier post about ‘that niggling feeling’ of always wanting to run to a new city and start afresh. Well, this is what I found out when I went to Cardiff for a day.
I was on a 9:45am train from Paddington station. I was there sitting on a very empty train, ready for a 2 hour journey alone. I had my Economist subscription, and I spent the first hour reading it. It had been a while since I’d done this; I practically did it every week when working at Bloomberg, traveling to Paris to meet with clients. I didn’t miss it for a second. I thought I’d like the escape. It was the opposite.
Arrived in Cardiff, cold wind and rain proved that the black pencil skirt and white blouse had definitely been the wrong choice. I quickly found the train to Heath High Level that screeched into Cardiff Central. And there, off I was to another empty station. There was green and trees everywhere, and a bit of sun poked out for an hour or two. I was early for the interviews so I walked through the small streets, past the University of Wales Hospital, and sat in a small cafe and ordered a diet coke. The cafe barista was so friendly and warm; it felt almost personal. But that’s the thing, it wasn’t personal. I didn’t know him. This wasn’t my local. And I didn’t know anyone in this town.
Then and there, I realised that this was what moving to a new city was about. I had completely forgotten the parts where you walk around, not knowing anyone. Knowing your friends don’t live 20 minutes away. That you can’t meet up with your girlfriend for a drink at your local pub. That your boyfriend isn’t a tube ride away. You don’t know the good store to go to to buy that bread you like. You have no idea where people go out. You don’t have your ‘home’ to go back to with all of the small decorations you’ve put up over the years. You don’t have that familiar street to walk down. The sports team you play with on the weekends when you’re feeling a bit hungover isn’t there. You have to start all over again. Not knowing anyone.
I finished my interviews and without an umbrella, I continued to be soaked in the rain as I walked back towards the train station. Freezing and with no store to buy an umbrella, only houses and hills surrounding me, I eagerly walked into the warm train towards the central station. From Cardiff Central, I ran out to the commercial street to find a Boots Pharmacy, and bought one of those little umbrellas that last about a day and a half. I was so ready to go home. Instead, I realized my train departure was still 3 hours from then. I walked around the centre, thinking whether I wanted to walk into a pub or not to watch the World Cup match. It was 5pm and after a long day, all I wanted was to see was a friendly face and grab a beer or glass of wine in a pub with some friends. Instead, I resorted to a small cafe (for a cheap sandwich: student life). I didn’t feel like sitting in another empty pub without knowing anyone.
I crawled into the train at 7.30pm, cold and tired. Those two hours I had left on the train journey back home felt so incredibly long. It dawned on me that I’ve created a home for myself in London. My apartment has the novels and startup books I’ve read over the last four years, the red candles and black and white photo frames my sister bought me when I moved into the flat to make it cosy, the wall we decided to paint bright orange in the living room, the pink and grey blankets we bought the first winter to keep us warm. My best friends and boyfriend were again a tube ride away. I could call up my girlfriends to watch the World Cup match on Saturday in a pub. My brother would be in the living room watching the football. I have built a home here in London. And for Third Culture Kids, I think we know how important it is. And we also know that it’s more than a country your parents are from or a city where you were born. Home is about the connections you’ve made, the habits you’ve formed, and the familiarity you’ve built over time in the city you live in today.