Nina Eldridge

This morning I walked down Bancroft Way to my last ever final. As I readjusted my sunglasses, and took a sip of coffee from my mason jar, I took in my daily view of the Golden Gate Bridge. This has been a good year.

My year was not supposed to end this way. I was supposed to already have booked my flights “home” by now. False-home is in France. It was always meant to be temporary. My “real” home was England for a great many years… at least in my mind. Once I finally returned, I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing there. So I stayed in France. It wasn’t that bad, and I might finally have been getting the hang of complaining as a national pastime and those goddamn two hour lunch breaks. I started making plans. There was a boyfriend and a career path and a five-year plan.

And then Berkeley happened.

I was offered the opportunity to spend my first year of my MA at UC Berkeley, taking a mix of graduate and undergraduate courses. The boyfriend was lost sight of at some point in the preparation leading up to the departure, the career plan stayed firmly put though… at first.

It started to fade somewhere between learning to smile and taking up yoga. It was greatly shaken by a date with Lucy and a trip to Santa Cruz. It disappeared completely when I found peers for the first time in my life and found academic pursuits that made me cry tears of joy (literally – my notebooks have  happy-tear stains).

Europe is a beautiful place. Really, go visit. And yet, to me, it is a map of scars and growing pains. A series of fresh starts that were only ever new seeds planted in the old rotten fruit, never a fresh patch of soil. Europe is so small, there is no space. Everywhere I step someone has been before and can already tell me exactly how my life is going to be.

America was new. California was my open field, and Berkeley was the perfectly-sized cosy little spot I could invest and come to call mine.

I have always been on the move. Everywhere I have ever lived has only ever been a “meanwhile” that I would refuse to commit to, I always had my eye on something bigger and better. Until now. The Californian soil is dry – drier than it should be – but no ground has ever let me sink into it so perfectly. My feet are firmly planted on the ground and I am no longer scared to be dissolved by a simple gust of wind. I stand with the redwoods, tall and immovable. I will never leave.

Oh, wait. The immigration office doesn’t deal in botanical metaphor. Visas can be extended, but not indefinitely. An exchange student is expected to return at some point; there are people waiting at home. But what about when a year abroad stops being a year abroad? …And becomes the first chapter in finally being alive. For the first time in my life, I have stopped feeling foreign. I identify with the place I live in, and it is such a powerful feeling that I will never go back to the way I was before.

I will continue to travel, because I still have a few things left to find, but I will never move on from California. When life is too hard and I feel like I need a break and to get back in touch with myself, where else to go but the place where I finally came into myself and found joy in life?