I. “If you really cared for her, Then you wouldn't've never hit the airport to follow your dreams”
“Barbuda?” “Where is it?” “Oh, like the triangle?” These questions became expected and tiring after a while. When I was in London, random strangers, workmates, and friends had a minimal or misguided idea of where I called home.
And perhaps so did I.
For a long time, Bermuda was somewhere I needed to be because I had no choice.
There is an attraction to live beyond this tiny rock. To experience newness, move out of our parent's houses, explore the world, and feel a sense of adventure. With no four-year university on the island, it is a rite of passage to leave for school, get a degree, and then return home.
This was my goal too, but after completing high school, I enrolled at Bermuda College instead - there was no money to do anything else - and used that year to plan for my departure.
I left as if I was running away from something and made my way for London at the start of a new year.
One study(1) published by a couple of college researchers examined if living abroad can clarify who we are and how we define ourselves. The research explored if a person’s identity defines who they are or if it is a mere reflection of their cultural background. In the first analysis, participants - some who lived abroad and others who hadn’t - were asked to indicate their level of agreement to statements on how they viewed and believed in themselves. Next, the study measured the people’s self-discerning reflections, contrasting that those who lived abroad and are exposed to cultural norms outside of their own had a clearer sense of self than those who had not because they engaged with their values rather than the values they grew up in.
Knowing yourself is not dependent on living away from home. A person can of course establish self-clarity through their personal discoveries and experiences, even if they are only a stone’s throw away from where they grew up. Our upbringing definitely impacts the kind of person we become. But the point of the study was to identify the extent to which individuals confidently perceive themselves, noting the rate one reaches self-concept clarity increases when they experience life outside of what they know.
After a couple of years in London, I was comfortable with life in the city and who I’d become there. This new place was also my home. I didn’t feel like I’d lost Bermuda - I had no desire to go back - because I knew it would always be there. It was a reference point, recognisable territory. But, near the end of 2017, I decided to return to the island.
I’d been in London for seven years at this point: three years in university and the following four years living/adulting/making it, deciding to stay in the city to establish myself as a writer, focused on a path in journalism
During that time, the most I’d go back to Bermuda was a month during the summer. That was long enough for me, or at least that’s what I’d tell myself. I’d masquerade as a tourist, enjoy the vacation, then dip out after Labour Day. Even on those holidays, I’d have moments of discord that would make me eager for my flight out.
The slow change of pace.
The requirement to say good afternoon to every person you pass.
The lack of spontaneous interactions.
The exorbitant cost of things ($7 for a loaf of bread?!)
The change of routine took some adjusting. I was used to coming and going as I pleased, now I had to rely on others. Daily interactions were monotonous. Specific conversations that before didn’t rile me were now odd and off-putting. My friends and family were in their bubble, and I was unsure if I fit in it. I adapted, and while it seemed like I settled in, I didn’t allow myself to get too acquainted. I was one foot in, one foot out. When my self-imposed deadline came, I was out again.
II. “I guess you never know what you got ‘til it’s gone.”
I met many people who moved to London from all over the world, Brazil, Spain, Lithuania, France, Italy, Portugal, New Zealand. Like me, they’d say they missed Home yet also didn’t think about returning.
Homesickness: a yearning for home; an effect of the separation from a familiar place, family, and friends.
When we move away, especially initially, the uproot can cause sadness and anxiety as we think of where and what we left behind. I would get homesick at the most unusual times.
On a night bus after working a 10-hour shift, watching snaps of my friends.
When I was low on funds and didn’t want to ask my parents for another loan.
If I missed the last train home.
Being rejected from a writing job.
During those times I’d ask myself, “Am I truly missing Home? Or am I having a stressful adulting moment? Maybe I want, need to feel assurance, stability, and love.” Although I’d created a safe space for myself, in the moments where protection and tenderness was lacking, I’d long for the place I could be assured of affection and comfort - Home in Bermuda.
Even beyond these feelings, there were times when I truly wished I was back in my island home. When it was sunny, I wanted the ocean. I often craved my mama's cooking or fish sandwiches. And missing special Bermuda holidays was the worst: I didn’t come back for Cupmatch two years in a row and vowed never to do that again.
Returning one summer, I was told “I could not land” as a resident. My new British passport did not have the stamp stating I am a resident. Did that mean I wasn’t Bermudian? Would I have to declare I was a foreigner in my own country? I went into a senior Customs officer's room and was met with “Oh, ya Gil’s daughter!”, and the officer pressed the “holder is registered as Bermudian” stamp in my passport without hesitation. In London, whenever someone asks, “Why are you here,” I jokily say, “I’m British.” I have a British passport; it says I’m a British Citizen, but I have no desire to be known as a Brit. I look back on the customs encounter and always laugh at the paradox. It’s funny how after all the years of seeming like a visitor, the thought of having to prove myself as a resident was unsettling.
When the reality of being an outsider would hit me, I’d miss Home even more. I held back my accent a lot, but when a Bermuda-ism like “that’s mug,” “this is well,” or “you lot” would slip out, I’d inevitably be met with confusion. And these misunderstandings went both ways! One day, interning for The Sun at a fashion photo shoot, I was asked to make everyone a cuppa. (A cup of what?!) I do not care to watch Come Dine with Me or GoggleBox nor do I want a roast every Sunday. I don’t know the difference between English accents. And the pub does not excite me.
There is Home, and then there is a home. I made a home in London, but it was not quite Home.
To remedy the outsider-dom, we search for Home in familiar people and places. In Uni days, this meant going to the ‘Bermuda Day in the UK’ event. Set in the same pub every year, Bermudians come together to celebrate our heritage day. With Bermudian musicians performing in the background, the day is spent doing what we love to do: talk and drink. The vurds we hold back around our English mates are accentuated, the camaraderie felt, the pokiness embraced, and the Gosling black rum absorbed.
We can leave Home, but Home comes with us. It is a Home, coming.
III. “I'm comin' home again, maybe we can start again”
Bermudians are proud people. It is why pieces of our island travel with us wherever we go. It’s why we stay connected and feel compelled to return. To Americans, Homecoming is not about returning to your country. The word is synonymous with the yearly celebrations set across colleges in the US, where festivity is famous for the parties, tailgates, step shows, rallies, and alumni coming back. The return signifies pride and gratitude for their alma maters.
Homecoming looks different for us, but it is similarly rooted in hometown glory. I ultimately discovered that, for as long as I’ve been away, how much I love London and how thankful I am for the lessons - Bermuda is my true home.
Ten years ago, I’d jumped at the opportunity to leave, and now here I am ready to return.
I’m dismissing the feeling that I am back-peddling, reminding myself - that my goals in life can make progress in Bermuda, that this move is not going backwards.
It’s the beginning of another chapter.
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