Speak Up

Why everyone needs to move to a new city at least once in their life

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Kate Leaver
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Even the homesickness is lovely, in its own sickening way.

Three years ago, I ate a roast chicken dinner with my mother, went to bed, dreamed of Hyde Park and woke up wanting to move 12,500km away from home. I had been living in Sydney, Australia the full 27 years of my life until that point. Then I’d ended a seven-year relationship and wanted a drastic change (but didn’t fancy the traditional post-breakup hair chop). So I quit my job, moved in with my dad and step-mum for a bit, saved money, soaked up the last Australian sunshine I’d have on my skin in a while and bought tickets to London.

In the lead-up to my leaving, I’d get little pangs of dread and fear – if you caught me in a tender moment, of course I would have acknowledged that moving to the other side of the planet, a full 24-hour flight from my parents and family, was an enormous thing to do. It was frightening, in that invigorating sort of way, and exactly what I needed. Mostly, I was consumed by this rather delightful sort of courage and excitement, picturing all the cold British days, the museums, the libraries, the squirrels, the pubs that George Orwell wrote in, the Ryanair flights to Europe for the weekend, the Sunday roasts and the cute English boys who presumably wore blazers with elbow patches. 

I arrived at Heathrow, where my childhood best friend was waiting for me with a limo driver hat and a sign with my name on it. I thought “what am I doing here?” and “this is exactly where I need to be right now” at precisely the same time. I would keep asking myself those questions, alternating from one mood to the other, for years to come. I still do. 

For the first few months, I was cold and disoriented. I arrived in a crisp April and by the time it started getting dark at 4pm, I felt so far from Sydney, I could’ve been in another reality altogether. I serendipitously landed a job working for J.K. Rowling, visited a Belgian Fry Museum in Bruges, saw the Holocaust Museum in Berlin, went on some questionable Tinder dates, found a place with strangers on Spare Room and tried to make London my own. I learned little British idiosyncrasies and came to love them: words like ‘faff’ and ‘duvet’, things like bread sauce and Yorkshire puddings, places like Pret and the top level of the double decker bus. I learned to apologise effusively like a British person, get around on the tube and not to answer when someone says ‘what am I like?’.

Now, three years later, I have an extremely English boyfriend, a small, flat-faced dog, friends and a career here. My best friend has just moved over from Melbourne with her boyfriend, and I’m watching as they too work out how to belong in London. It’s a strange, beautiful rite of passage and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Everyone should move to a new city at least once in their lives. Yes, you will get homesick and your heart will ache for the people you’ve left behind, particularly if they’re going through something awful or something wonderful. You feel those kilometres with your whole body when someone you love is struggling or celebrating on the other side of the world, and a FaceTime call is never enough to make you feel close. You will stay in touch with friends mainly by WhatsApp and crave your traditional evenings of Netflix and takeaway with a ferocity you don’t expect. You will miss things you took for granted at home: your family GP, your old commute, your local coffee place. You will be scared at times, you will be disoriented, you will wonder why you ever decided to leave the safety and comfort of the home you grew up in. But I think we should feel fear in our adult lives; it has a way of making us work out who we want to be. Even the homesickness is lovely, in its own sickening way, because it makes you realise how much you cherish your family and friends (and in my case, the feeling of salt water on your skin).

Why everyone needs to move to a new city at least once in their life

I think we should feel fear in our adult lives; it has a way of making us work out who we want to be.

Trying to make a foreign city your home is a wonderful, frightening thing. It forces you to be proactive about making new friends and meeting new people, or risk being lonely. It asks you to find out who you are in new situations. It encourages you to explore, to travel, to see new things and to find bargain flights to Prague before anyone else. It challenges you, scares you and welcomes you into being a new version of yourself. It allows you to reinvent yourself a little bit if you fancy, because you can choose which stories you tell and which elements of your personality you present to the new people you meet. It makes you question what you value most and it makes you think of the concept of ‘home’ entirely differently.

You will probably not go to sleep one night and wake up determined to move across the globe. You probably won’t make my exact pilgrimage from Sydney to London. No experience of moving to a new city is the same, and that’s the beauty of it. You cannot predict what it’ll be like but it will only ever belong to you – and that makes all the fear worth it. 

For one day only on Monday 13 August, Laura Whitmore has taken over stylist.co.uk and transformed it into her very own Speak Up platform – a digital initiative which aims to shine a light on the day’s most important headlines, challenge the status quo, spark debate, encourage conversation and, above all else, champion women’s voices..

For similarly inspiring content, check out Laura Whitmore’s show on BBC Radio 5 Live, which airs on Sundays at 11am.

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