Directionless: Chronicle of a Study-Abroad Student’s Odyssey

Design by Alina Susani

To get back to your flat, you connect in London’s Liverpool Street Station with a straightforward plan: switch to the Circle Line train that will stop at Tower Hill, your desired destination. However, because the platform’s electronic sign forecasts a twenty-minute wait, you decide to walk instead, a road you’ve never taken before. Despite the future’s unpredictability, you are certain you will get lost because you are terrible at directions, especially in London, a metropolis you haven’t visited since you could rely on your parents to navigate the dense streets. You resolve to go anyway. Worth a shot.

After struggling to find the exit and colliding with a man in a V-neck vest, you climb the stairs to the street. Liverpool. An odd name, in your opinion. With your limited knowledge of British history, you know someone named Lord Liverpool served as Prime Minister around the 18th (or 17th?) century. You wait by a crosswalk. Liver-pool. You are one liver in an anatomic pool of many also waiting to cross the street. Do people have one liver or two? An ambulance shrieks by. Good timing. Buildings loom overhead, appearing as important as the Londoners beelining toward the station with a Confidence and Purpose you lack. Across the traffic’s blur, you notice an “international” KFC and an alcove dedicated to another Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel. You wonder what the street looked like when Liverpool himself strolled by. After two minutes of debating whether or not to jaywalk (where is the traffic light?), the green flash of a stick figure comes to your aid. You cross.

You open Google Maps on your phone and attempt to follow the Right Direction (highlighted in turquoise), something you have struggled with a lot this past year. You reorient the screen to see where to turn. Still unsure, you bound forward and hope you made the right choice (again, the past year in a nutshell). Now, you are violating the only Universal Law of Motion you know: if you move in any form of transportation (walking, cars, the few moments on the tube where cellular connection seeps through), you need to be listening to music. But right now you need to focus, and the lyrics of a Björk song won’t tell you whether to turn left or right on Goring Street. 

8:35 p.m., and the sun continues to shine. You glance at one of the skyscrapers. An office. You remember the TV show The Office (the American one, not the British) that you binged as an eighth-grader. What if this is also a paper company? You picture a sitcom setting. And now the inevitable occurs: you are lost. Just pick a path and hope for the best. Head lowered to your phone amid the double-decker buses, you make an obvious tourist. An easy target for a bicycle-riding pickpocket. Your hands clasp the iPhone like a prayer. Google Maps is your God.

You trudge on, desperate for the freshly-pressed, £2 orange juice from the convenience store neighboring your apartment—no, “flat.” The air smells clear, surprisingly devoid of city odors. You check Maps and are back on track, for now. Another ambulance wails past. To your left, a contingent of champagne-sipping business people chatter. A bald man with an orange beard leans over to his friend, “I DRunk…I DRUNk…” You worry for his liver.

Eventually, you reach familiar territory: a Starbucks six minutes from your flat. Confident in the path, you drop the phone into your pocket and keep walking until you spot an electrician in the upper window of a building. He adjusts two cables sprouting from the ceiling. You imagine what it would be like if you worked as an electrician. Could you navigate the whole maze of wires tunneling through Everything? Probably not. Now more than ever, you feel stuck in an endless series of missteps pushing you further away from the Right Direction. You can’t understand the sprawling, muddled mess of neurons that would explain all the idiosyncrasies and contradictions that make you you. But you just do your best and hope for meaning in the wandering. And you buy that orange juice.

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