The closer I got to home, the sadder I became. It was the last place on earth I wanted to be. As I flew over London, undeniably dazzling in the darkness, my heart was broken at the sight. Far too soon, my magical life in Beirut had come to a dramatic halt. Only six weeks in, destiny had apparently yanked me back in the direction of home and signalled life abroad was not to be. But destiny was not the enemy; it was of course, the coronavirus. It had reared its ugly head and tore me away from my dewy Middle Eastern existence. The growing seriousness of the pandemic, both in Lebanon and the UK left me with little choice but to make the agonising call to return home.
Last year, as my first post-uni job in London was ending and I struggled to locate my next step, I began to realise now was the time to go and live abroad. If I didn’t go now, it would never happen. I would be four years down the line stuck in the city’s relentless rut, wishing I had spent time in another country, full of regret and Pret. So, I decided I was going to move to Beirut; to work, live, and learn how they do it on the other side of the world. I had a burgeoning interest in Arabic and journalism, plus I had heard only praise for the city, the people, the food and the nightlife.
“I was nervous but ready to touch down in unknown territory…”
Sounds an easy decision doesn’t it? Well, the thing is it was. Of course, prior to heading out I endlessly bothered anyone and everyone who had ever been to Lebanon or attempted to learn Arabic for intel. I shamelessly exploited my unrealistically large pool of Facebook friends for answers, and pestered parents’ colleagues’ colleagues for connections. I was nervous but ready to touch down in unknown territory and had mentally (as well as physically) removed myself from London, and was content to see the back of it.
From the get-go I felt settled and happy in Beirut. I have pondered why this was, but I think mainly because I arrived into an apartment decorated with a fantastic trio of British expats who took me under their wing and lurched me into Lebanese life. My day-to-day consisted of Arabic classes at a language school, building up contacts and looking for a job at a local newspaper, which arose just before I left. Not to mention the frequent antics at bars and house parties that really were on every street corner. Within days I decided I would be there for the year. I relished the independence: being able to do whatever I liked, when I liked, with whoever I liked. There was none of the exhausting who/what/when/why that can be so suffocating in circles back home.
So after all that, as I accepted my fate and surrendered to the global health pandemic, I knew one thing: I would be back. Speaking to family and friends now, I stick firmly with the line: ‘My adventure in Lebanon has been put on pause’ as opposed to stopped and erased from the DVD player of life. The hopefulness of one day pressing play, hearing the jolts of activation and letting life play out once more is important to me. Hanging onto little positives right now is more valid than ever.
I didn’t leave the UK because I wasn’t happy at home, but I just couldn’t settle with the idea of spending yet another Friday night in a pub followed by a Saturday and Sunday drowning in Deliveroo and dissatisfaction and pretending that this was what life was about. What always nudged me, was that London wasn’t leaving and if I had the opportunity to venture out, why not just try it? Life is long but also short. A couple of years away could be filled with the richest and most colourful adventures compared with another few years in London. How many new memories could one make strolling the same streets, doing indistinguishable deeds, week in, week out?
Despite international travel seeming literally a world away right now, our hopes do not have to be. It might feel as if the lights have gone out, but now is a prime time to dream and research. It will be safe to travel again. The virus has reminded us that life is fragile and consequently, it is more relevant than ever to act on your ambitions. We are all guilty of fantasising about a different job, daydreaming about New York or Copenhagen, mulling over life in Melbourne.
“Every goal begins with the ambition, the idea.”
If you are considering it, you are a step closer. Every goal begins with the ambition, the idea. Yes, this does sound like a lot of hot-air, but if it launches you forward then who cares? Don’t be deterred by career fears. Stepping outside your comfort zone and achieving anything abroad is a challenge in itself, and you will be respected for that.
We are young, lucky to be fit and able with budding minds that are malleable and spongey. Our brains are waiting to be soaked in strange sights, smells and feelings. And where better to find them than in a new country?
By Rosabel Crean