On into the unknown.
A journey of 45 thousand kilometres
Natalia Sudoł, University of Oxford Graduate
Born in Warsaw, raised in a town in Eastern Poland, I interacted with roughly 1,500 other people. The first 14 years of my life were not particularly full of unknowns. I knew where I would buy bread and whom I would most likely meet in the queue. I knew who goes to the 9 am and midday mass and who prefers the evening one. I knew the lady in the grocery store and the one in the public library, and the one at the post office.
Japanese. Learning a foreign language meant extra classes every Saturday in Warsaw. People on the street cannot name everyone in your entire family three generations back. I know no one and no one has any idea of who I am. One could say it was like the breath of fresh air (if it was not for air pollution). The murderous journey added to the overall Japanese class experience... Feelings of excitement and new doors opening overshadowed the long waits in front of the Palace of Culture and tiresome travels. I did not know how to use public transport. I did not know anyone in the entire city. I did not know street names or districts, or anything. Warsaw was where it was at; the great unknown. After all, a town with a population of roughly 1,800 people does not compare to the capital.
15 840 km
The clattering bus stuck in traffic never seemed so empowering. Arguing over cleaning the room shared with two strangers while trying to outshout tourists’ noises coming from the outside was part of a great deal I got. I was sure it was my final destination: where I belong, where I start everything from scratch, and when I - one day - finish everything. For a couple of years, I was right. Every weekend I hopped on a bus to look at the beginning and remember why it turned into an ending. Warsaw maybe did not live up to my expectations, but I had to remember why this journey happened in the first place. Every time I thought that maybe my life in Warsaw was not precisely the bold life I wished I had, every time it did not live up to my expectations of the daring, buzzing big-city life, every time I forgot how frustrated and bored I was before, I took a bus East. That final destination was, obviously, Warsaw; I was supposed to return from that little adventure and remember how dashing my life is now compared to what I left behind.
19 040 km
But the thing is, it was not really the final station, was it? Rabelais said that appetite comes with eating and I guess this did not change much over the last five centuries. The big city life was not enough for me — I had to prove myself, chase a career. That overambitious nature of mine somehow morphed the bus into a plane, and I found myself flying for that interview I swore I am not going to get because I had a typo in my personal statement. Sitting on the green sofa strategically placed next to a fireplace and a wall of shelves bending under the weight of books left me overwhelmed with how many doors there is that one can try to unlock, how many directions I can decide to take. Obviously, many doors were not for me to open, I could only look; but just seeing the sheer number of opportunities left me astonished and, frankly, feeling kind of stupid and naive. Naive, because I dared to think that my life in Warsaw is everything there was to life. Silly, because how can I compete with people who know more, have seen more, are experienced more? Sitting in the very uncomfortable blue seat, I felt that maybe this is the one journey that might be a bit too far, too out of my comfort zone, too challenging of an adventure.
43 040 km
The blue seat grew on me, somehow. Just like the clattering bus did not seem so bad, the cramped plane with limited leg space became perfectly acceptable. My life likes to keep me on edge, so it was a bit of a last-minute change of plans when I got accepted despite missing my offer. Such a change and a change of university was an adventure, a bittersweet one. Adventures are risky, and I took the risk, but was it worth it? Student debt aside, considering all the good things and all the horrible things that happened during that time, could I say that studying in the UK was the right choice? I am, for one, what many would call a professional over-thinker. So, I asked myself this question a million times, every time I sat in the plane back to London, every time I had to unpack-and-pack my room, every time I found myself calculating my budget. Frankly, I had no idea, not in the slightest. That’s the gist of every journey — you do not fully understand it until the end.
44 990 km
On March 14th, at one o’clock in the morning, I gave my keys back and boarded a bus to the airport. The flight from London Stansted to Wroclaw was approximately two hours. The end arrived sooner and was quicker than I wished it was. So abruptly, so unexpectedly, without a chance to say goodbyes to everyone. Without a proper and definitive end, even. I might have left the city once and for good, but my questionable university adventure was far from over with the final term looming over my head. I didn’t hide the bitterness in my tone. Locked in a house during quarantine, writing finals alone, was this how my journey was supposed to end? Or did it end the moment I stepped back from the Express InterCity train in Warsaw Central Railway station? Did it end when I saw my mother at the platform or when she drove me back home, back to the place I left six years ago? Was the train journey the epilogue of my adventure, or just a start of a completely new one? These are questions I struggle to find a coherent answer to, but until I am on the move, the chase is not over. I might have no idea where the train will take me next, but as long as someone is waiting at the station, I am fine with hopping on the wagon.