We moved to London nearly 3 years ago. In 3 years we have posted a lot of pictures of the maple tree behind our flat, a little bit about our travels, and not much else. I am embarrassed that, in 3 years, we have shared so little about our time here. There are reasons for not sharing the minutiae of our daily lives, even if, for many of you our musings come from a completely different country and might be (maybe?) somewhat interesting. Of course, in no uncertain terms, London is amazing. To live in a city with so much history and culture has been a blessing and a valuable education. But it’s also been challenging, demoralizing, and exhausting.
I’d love to share a brief overview of our time in London and the experiences that have shaped the past 3 years.
As many of you know, the catalyst for our move to London was my education. We moved here on a student visa so that I could take a one year master’s degree in Children’s Literature. This brought us to the tiny top floor flat in Putney, South London that we have called home for the past 3 years. Putney has been an excellent neighbourhood to call home with plenty of coffee shops, grocery stores, parks, and gorgeous view of the Thames from Putney Bridge.
I completed the M.A. two years ago and am so grateful for the experience and the knowledge I gained through the masters. It was absolutely worth doing and an interest I continue to pursue. In fact, I wish I had time for further exploration into the subject. But I don’t, for reasons I’ll explain later.
The M.A. was fantastic, but it did not come without its unexpected turns. I did very well in my undergraduate degree in English and fully expected my proficiencies to translate in grad school. Fellow grad students will agree that graduate studies are demoralizing at best, but add to that a completely foreign grading system and suddenly those anticipated straight As just don’t seem to come as easily as they once did. I cried for two weeks after getting my first paper back. I was supposed to be cranking out papers of a publishable standard, papers that demonstrated my ability and readiness for doctoral work. My first paper came back with 56% and I was, as the English say, gutted. It felt as though I had been following a clear career path and then suddenly, without warning, the path had disappeared. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for Ph.D. studies after all, I thought. Maybe I shouldn’t even be doing a masters. The doubts about the degree coupled with the weight of moving to a completely different country for the degree added up to an incredibly stressful and depressing first year in London. When you’re busy trying to get through several novels, countless articles, and wrapping your mind around theoretical concepts as they function in Children’s Literature, blogging to share the fun that you’re not having isn’t exactly top priority.
We also thought that travel would be a primary part of our time in London. I fully expected weekends away in Paris sitting at cafes while I read up on semiotics in picture books and ecocriticism in children’s literature. But it took Jonathan nearly 7 months to find a full time job, and by that time our robust savings were dwindling. His new job at a charity barely allowed enough at the end of each month for grocery money, let alone quick weekend trips around Europe.
We muddled along and then, for reasons I’m still not totally clear on, decided in November to apply for a 2 year post study work visa and see if London might look a little different once we were both working. After six long months I also found work – at the same charity as Jonathan. I stepped into my role without a handover, without a real job description, and with three months of backlog to catch up on as the team had been without a coordinator since January. My aspirations to do admin by day and academics by night quickly dwindled as I repeatedly worked 8-10 hour days just to keep up with everything (I’m paid to work for 7 hours a day). I came home exhausted every evening and quickly began to dread the team dynamics, immense work load, and volatile working conditions. I’ve stuck it out for over a year now, and have learned so much practically, emotionally, and spiritually. I’m grateful for this opportunity, but ranting about my experience in the workplace didn’t quite feel like fodder for blog posts.
If I’m totally honest, I feel as though we’ve only just started to enjoy London and really start ‘living’ here in the past 6-8 months. But London is a hectic city and finding the time to share our experiences in any medium other than twitter and instagram just doesn’t fit our overly stretched time budget.
And now we’re leaving. In less than two months our belongings will be on their way back to Canada, while we take a much needed break and soak in some of Europe in September. I’m sure the internet is a better place without my ramblings about London. But it also seems like a waste. As a married couple, Jonathan and I have spent more time in London than anywhere else in the world. For better or for worse we have built a life here. Our time in London has been profound in ways that might have been valuable to share.
We are thrilled to be moving back to Canada and cannot wait to soak in spontaneous and meandering time with family, a luxury we’ve not had for 3 years. We’re excited for our first Christmas with family in 4 years (despite the inevitable juggling and time sharing involved). We look forward to moving back to a society that, in many ways, just works better and makes more sense. But to say that we’ll leave without doubts and fears about this next chapter would be a lie.
I think Adam Gopnik, quoting his wife in his memoir, Paris to the Moon, says it best. “‘We have a beautiful existence in Paris, but not a full life,’ Martha said, summing it up, ‘and in New York we have a full life and an unbeautiful existence.’” In London we are surrounded by beauty, history, and culture, but most days it feels as though we are merely existing, which is hardly worth writing home about. As we transition into the fullness of life in Canada I hope to have more that is worth sharing.