Longing For London

I left London on May 29, 1999, a sad and broken man. Sad because my semester abroad was over. Broken because I stayed up all night in an attempt to a) adjust my body for Eastern Standard Time and b) spend one last night partying with my British friends.

I loved living in the U.K. I loved the culture, the people, the pubs and the soccer. I loved it all. And I would do anything to go back again.

Two weeks ago, I dove back in. I hopped onto a puddle-jumper prop plane from Washington, D.C., to New York and quickly switched to an Airbus for the seven-hour flight to Heathrow. I was back in London.

It’s odd to return to the place where you studied abroad, 10 months after leaving. I once called this foreign land home. It was indeed foreign, yet strangely familiar. Immediately after passing through customs, I made a bee line to meet my girlfriend in another terminal at the airport, and then we went right into the tube (a.k.a. the subway). There was no confusion, no concerns about where I was going or what to do. I just did it.

I found our hostel with no problems and met a few fellow Georgetown spring breakers across town at Hyde Park without batting an eye. I walked the streets just as I had a year ago. Almost nothing had changed.

Well, a few things had. There were a few more Starbucks along Oxford Street (one of my old dormmates told me that Starbucks had bought out a British coffee chain and BAM! they had invaded). The construction projects around my old school, University College London, had grown more involved. My beloved soccer team, Arsenal, had fallen from championship contenders to fifth-place also-rans.

At the end of the day, these were just cosmetic changes. The London tabloids still plastered news about the London mayoral election, although they had shifted from attacking disgraced Tory politician and novelist Jeffrey Archer to hyping the candidacy of Labor-turned-Independent leftist Ken Livingstone.

My old British friends hadn’t changed much, although they all had graduated. Mel went from attending classes to taking aid to people in war-torn Kosovo. Rebecca was a civil servant. Jose was studying to be a barrister.

We went out for dinner and drinks. My Georgetown friends met my UCL friends, although dinner conversation tended to divide between the two camps. We hit my favorite old pubs, talked and went pint-for-pint at the Marlborough Arms. It was a quiet evening – a bit different from my days last semester when hanging out with Mel and Jose meant lots of beer, lots of pubs and lots of late nights in the TV lounge. Tonight, we were mellow. I had just come off a plane. Jose was tired from class. Mel had to leave for Kosovo in the morning.

I only spent four days in London. On Wednesday, I took the Eurostar to Paris so my girlfriend could revisit her study abroad home, and I know her feelings on such a homecoming were as powerful as my own. Plus, I was not only visiting my old stomping grounds but playing tour guide to a pair of Georgetown students looking to get the most out of the city.

Going back to London was tough. I loved visiting my friends, walking through Chelsea, eating kebab and chips at Mr. C’s, downing ale at the Churchill Arms and having Guinness with a full English breakfast at the Fox and Anchor.

I missed my semester in London. I longed for the days spent playing football and the nights exploring London’s nightlife. I missed just hanging around. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed not just visiting but living in London. I realizehow much I want to go back and live there again and how much I want to find a company willing to send a newly-minted Georgetown graduate to London.

I stared out the window of the Eurostar for a good long time after it pulled out of Waterloo Station, heading south for the Channel. I looked out on a city I lived in for six months. I looked out on a city a missed for 10 months. I looked out on a city I am dying to return to again – for a longer stay.

Days on the Hilltop appears every Tuesday in The Hoya.

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