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I'm Still Here


Like many who had gone before me, I took just the one suitcase of belongings over to London. It was in part a statement of independence and in part a way to avoid Ryanair’s baggage fees.

I was 18 and very inexperienced. I thought I was witty and cynical, but it’s a lot easier to be witty and cynical in Downpatrick than it is in a major city like London.

This was six years ago now and I was on my way to study English at a university in East London. It was a far cry from my dreams of historic red brick colleges, but it transpired that my new life was meant to be spent in the grey concrete vastness of Mile End.

I soon learnt I was a sheltered girl. So all at once I had to learn how to be an adult, and do it in an inspiring but harsh place. It’s easy to lose your sense of self, if you’re not careful.

When friends and family asked me about ‘The Big Move’ in the months leading up to that September, I found myself coming up with a line that I could spoon-feed them. 

Something about what I thought of the campus and had heard about student life in London. Something that showed them I knew what I was getting myself into but acknowledged that I had a lot to learn.

I needn't have bothered. Despite the huge number of people that have made that move before, no one had anything useful to tell me. Or nothing that sticks in my mind anyway. 

My Granny sent me letters with printed prayers and religious medals in them.  I spoke to my parents often- maybe three or four times a week and missed them desperately. 

In unforgiving moments, I missed the sea and mountains where we would walk every Sunday. The water in London is hard and it took me months to get used to the taste.

In those first tentative months, I met some wonderful people who are still in my life and many who aren’t. And since then, I have cobbled together a life that makes me happy.

On reflection, I find that I’m just like those friends and family members, stumped and speechless, struggling to articulate how somewhere like London feels at it’s very best and very worst.

The best way for me to put it is I still have to force down tears when I leave my family at the airport for a London-bound flight. But its six years on… and I’m still here.