I clicked the “Book Now” option for a bus from Lisbon to Granada, with no plans, hotel or hostel and no knowledge of Portuguese or Spanish. I had just agreed to the final transport in my Bohemian adventure, and simultaneously had a panic attack about money. It’s a feeling that explains college in a nutshell, a feeling that has increased since I went abroad to London.
This ‘Bohemian adventure’ describes my mentality as I travel abroad: do as much as possible, spend as little as possible. For the sake of accessibility and money, I have had to strip some parts of my life down to the bare minimum. I’ve had to—in Fordham’s Jesuit values—live simply. I am very aware of what a privilege it is to study abroad and still be able to afford weekend getaways. By no means would I claim that my life abroad has been a hardship, but rather, studying abroad has forced me to make some decisions about what I truly value in life.
When I started packing for London, I crammed everything into my suitcase and backpack. Extra bag, extra money; one bag it is! Why do I have so many clothes in my closet? Have I ever worn this? I found myself shopping through my own drawers and leaving empty-handed. In the end, I packed only a few pairs of jeans, leggings and shirts.
I thought of the time with my Global Outreach team in San Diego and going through clothes at a shelter there. The coordinator told us that if we wouldn’t wear it, the kids at the shelter wouldn’t either. My outfits weren’t reject clothes; I thought they were pretty safe to pass on. It sounds melodramatic to say, but it was interesting to pack my life into a single bag. For someone whose room is full of a lot of random objects, it was easier than I thought to see what I could live without when forced to do so.
When I arrived at Heathrow Airport in London, I tried to get an international chip for my phone. After making some panicked calls from a borrowed phone to AT&T, my brother, my mom, my dad, the mailman, anyone really, it became clear that my phone was a problem. Just like that, I was thrust into one of the most rudimentary, yet fundamental, elements of modern simple living: being cut-off from technology. Don’t get me wrong, I had wifi to message my mom, but my phone could no longer be a shield, hiding me from the hustle and bustle of London streets and human interactions. I do not consider myself someone overly attached to technology, but my need for control makes me a prisoner of checking time, weather and email.
Without my phone, I felt reconnected to the living-in-the-moment attitude adapted from past retreats and my GO! project. I was not cut-off from the world, but I was not distracted by it. While everyone around me was hunting for wifi, I got to do a lot of people-watching. In the dark of the bus, I saw every face lit by the white square of light from their phones from which no eyes wavered.
I continued to take interest in the city around me, particularly its more human element. Fordham’s Midnight Run had taught me a lot about New York at night, but I did not initially find an equivalent in London.
Luckily, I found a different program called the C4WS Homeless Project run through a church. I woke up at 6:30 a.m. for my shift at the shelter (early mornings will be the death of me). After helping to cook breakfast, I talked to the members of the shelter.
I spent most of my time with a refugee woman from Bulgaria communicating mostly through hand gestures and pointing. No matter what I had known about the refugee crisis, I had never met any of the people most directly involved.
I was struck by the fact that by taking a little time out of my morning, I got to have a conversation with a sweet lady who shared a part of her world with me. I pointed to the word ‘friend’ in her dictionary and asked how to say its Bulgarian counterpart—приятел (priyatel).