LONDON – It’s almost embarrassing to admit, but six weeks into my experience as a student living independently in London, I am sitting in a Starbucks sipping a caramel macchiato through a green straw. Besides the accents swirling around me and the double-deckers rushing by, I could be in Spokane for all that my environment denotes.
In my defense, amidst all the excitement and sightseeing and new people comes a strange sort of feeling. Behind every look and conversation and walk, an uneasy buzz lingers and interrupts. It took me a while to identify it, but it is discomfort at its most disguised. Disguised because who expects discomfort whilst living out your supposed dreams?
But there it lies. It’s quiet and likes to surprise me at the most inopportune moments. It erodes the little comforts I’ve built around me until I’m left standing amidst all of it – surrounded by an ocean of discomfort. What else can I do but find a way off my deserted island?
CLADICH, SCOTLAND – We are standing on the brick platform of a dilapidated train station watching the two-car machine that we rode in from Glasgow disappear behind an old arch. It’s our last weekend before we start our eight-week internship and my three cohorts and I found ourselves in need of a relaxing holiday. So Scotland it is.
Feeling tired, excited, and adventurous, we roam into the small town of Dalmally – from which Google Maps said we could catch bus 497 to the even smaller town of Cladich where we could reach our booked Scottish cottage after a two mile walk. Because that sounds valid, right?
It only took a few moments before we realized that bus 497 would not be coming. It took a walk into a nearby B&B where not a soul was detected before we realized that this town of Dalmally is smaller than small. It took a short walk back to the train station and one last desperate glance down the tracks before the anxiety started to trickle down my spine and make me wish for the boring comfort of my small white dorm room.
But I remembered my earnest desire to find comfort within the discomfort and I knew that whatever was about to happen would be an adventure at best, a dreadfully hilarious story at worst. Fearing the worst but hoping for the best, my friends knocked on the door of the one sign of civilization on this stretch of land.
A woman answered dressed in a charmingly clashing suit of knitted attire.
“Ah,” She sighed in an Irish brogue, “More strays. Well, come in!” She waved us inside her eclectic felt shop, gave us tea and coffee and cookies, and called up the landlady of the cabin that we had booked weeks before.
A half hour later, we were stuffed full of stories and coffee and being whisked away by Sally, our matronly landlady, over the twists and turns of Scottish countryside, through the small town of Cladich, and into our chilly lakeside cottage. Sally noticed our lack of food and assured us that her husband could grab some for us in the village 30 minutes away.
She made us promise to head over to the pub by the end of the night, a promise we were eager to make and see through. If we’ve learnt anything abroad, it’s that a drink is always a welcome addition to any night. Or afternoon.
ON-THE-TRAIN-BACK, SCOTLAND – The weekend that followed was the most spontaneous, carefree, and unplanned event that has transpired in my experience abroad. After many faulty transportation, food, and directional decisions, the collective group effort to find comfort in the uncomfortable led to a discovery that is vital in life – everything will be fine. Poetic, eh?
But in all seriousness, we found ourselves hiking two miles this morning to catch a bus that only comes once a day to take us to a train that only leaves once a day to take us to another bus that is the only one going into London tonight.
Before this weekend, I would be shivering in discomfort instead of writing an article and making faces at my friends on the train right now. I would have been expending unnecessary energy worrying about things that cannot and will not change instead of laughing at yaks and admiring the scenery the whole two-mile hike to our unmissable bus this morning.
It took a lot of things gone awry to help me understand that things are only wrong if you think they’re wrong. Life goes on and busses are missed, trains break down and plans are changed.
Finding comfort abroad does not come through an impeccable knowledge of British culture, a flawless execution of plans made, or even the making of easy routines to balance out your life. Comfort abroad comes in the knowledge that you’re always going to get where you’re meant to go – broken down trains and all.