The young student, away from home, now tells how London is becoming more acceptable with my hate reducing for it
With gigantic structures in my surrounding, attempting to reach the horizon, I was like an unimportant figure, casually walking in the city where everyone is in a rush. Two months ago, the circumstances would make me dwell in the nostalgia of the past and mutter a wish to return home, but now, it reminds me of how quickly time goes by, with the finish line looking way too close for comfort. Although I miss people around me using the same native language, sitting together to eat biryani or gathering to play cricket, the dynamics of my life have changed. After all, this is a story of an International Student in a foreign land.
Start my day with affluent Urdu, talking to my parents, with the voices from the other end of the call serving as a daily reminder of where I originated from and the reason for my stay here. Next, I find myself surrounded by a diverse group of classmates, going through lectures with English being the medium of communication. Not joking, but there have been rare moments where I have been addressed in Mandarin, and that only makes me laugh now. Later, at night, in the kitchen of our house, I am familiarised with Spanish, with everyone speaking it fluently as I wait for someone to translate for me.
With time, after getting over my introverted side and interacting with people, I familiarised myself with the cultural differences and understood the history of different regions. Back in Lahore, if you ever visited P.F. Changs or went to Wabi, a fork would be preferred over chopsticks for eating the dishes. If you did opt to use the latter, it would be solely used for the sake of laughter or experimentation, with everyone coming up with their ways of using the wooden sticks. Here, seated in a Chinese restaurant, with my classmates around, a friend was quick to correct me by telling, “It is hugely disrespectful to play with the chopsticks”. Another one joked how her mom would faint if she saw me flipping them for fun. Nevertheless, people are quick to help and teach you, with a friend volunteering to take on this tiresome task, and now I remember to hold it “the way you hold a pencil”.
The learning is not restricted to only cutlery, as my tastebuds yearned to welcome different cuisines of the world. I cannot stop craving a good biryani, but desi restaurants over here are the personification of disappointment. The amateur chef Faaiz cooks better dishes than them, and all credit goes to my teacher, my mom. When deciding to eat a native British dish, one needs to mentally accept the lack of taste, but even with this fact established, eating them guilt trips me over wasted money. Once, I sent a photo to a friend back home of a meal I got from university, and she was concerned about my diet after looking at that. However, that does not mean that everything tastes bad. The diversity of people leads to many different restaurants. Among all the cuisines tested, the sizzling taste of Mexican food and the tenderness of meat in Saudi Arabian restaurants have made this foodie find a glimmer of hope in this tasteless land.
All this munching would lead to a chubby version of Faaiz if it wasn’t for the concept of walkable cities. My friends always said I walked too fast, but that was a blessing in disguise, as my favourite hobby is randomly going out on a stroll. London is full of tourist attractions, but I found more happiness in the concept of going out, seeing diverse people, observing the different architectural structures and simply exploring the city on my legs. Despite the everyday hustle and race to reach places, I came across instances of kindness, gratitude, curiosity and some that completely shook me. I often wish I owned a car as sometimes I return home with an exhausted body, with chores of the house smiling back at me. But when I recall all of my interactions in this new place, most of them would base around the theme of the lad deciding to walk to a nearby destination rather than opting for an alternative.
The preference for walking does not mean I refuse to use the underground or trains. For long distances, I do opt for them, and although most of my memories associated with them range from being cramped for space, running to make sure the train does not leave, praying they are not on strike, and blaming them for me being late, I still have some fond tales. From exchanging book reviews with fellow book readers on the train to giving sweets to children, every journey promises a highlight. However, the one that I think remains unprecedented was when I helped a distressed mother by playing with her year-old son and helping her feed him too.
Like any new chapter in life, I was reluctant at the start. One thing about me is that I do not welcome change in the manner most would. Suspicions, nervousness, hesitation to let go, and shyness make the whole process a struggle. However, now I finally think I have established my firm footing in the new environment and embraced change (also resisting the accent as it feels unnatural).
This new acceptance does not mean forsaking the loved ones left behind. Unlike before, my Whatsapp chats do not go crazy with too many unread messages, but there are conversations with few that I look forward to every day. The social circle from back home has shrunk to quite an extent, but the ones who remain, are the ones I truly value and cherish. There are days when you want to pack your bag, go to Heathrow and find yourself on an eleven-hour flight back home. Days, where loneliness makes you question the worth of this degree. I miss home, and I want to be back with my parents, annoy my little brother, have our midnight FIFA sessions and sit at a table with mummy placing my favourite dishes around my side. I would probably meet my closest friends after a gap of one year and reunite with my family after six months, but that sorrow is slowly healing, with the realisation that now I think I have found a second home.
For me, home is not confined to the walls of my house. I find people in the little things of life and remember the wisdom they shared. A cup of tea, a song from the past, shoes, socks, poetry, sports, the list is endless. Sometimes, I even take a photo and send it to the person associated with the thing, to let them know I thought of them. Credit to my mom’s advice of being a kind, smiling fellow who lights up the world, yesterday, I randomly passed a gleaming smile from the top of the bridge and waved my hands continuously at the boat passing underneath. Eventually, everyone waved back, smiling, and this incident would remain embedded in my mind for times to come.
(Wait for the next story where I would probably rant about how bad the city is or tell something interesting about it :p)