There is an old saying, “The more, the merrier.” But what if it’s not necessarily true? What if having less actually provides more?
Children tend to possess the wildest dreams of what their future life could be. Mine was living in a metropolis. My eyes sparkled with excitement when I imagined skyscrapers and high-rise buildings filling the landscape rather than monotonous suburban housing. Seeing trams and yellow taxis on the run while people were bustling into the busy streets also seemed more thrilling than the sight of people hanging out in a small park.
Perhaps my dream appeared from a familiar setting. Growing up in Bandung, I’ve always been at home with the hustle and bustle of a big city. The most typical manner is getting stuck in traffic during rush hour. But if there’s a silver lining to hearing constant car honks, then it’s that entertainment is everywhere to be found. Cafes are down every road, with plenty of shopping centres nearby. Not to mention the indoor theme parks, escape rooms, and zoos. The endless chatter from almost-24-hours shops and food stalls also makes the city feel vibrant.
I had always believed that only a busy, lively city would make me feel alive. Until IISMA brought me to London, a suburb in southwestern Ontario.
London is just a two-hour drive from Toronto and the famous Niagara Falls. This Justin Bieber’s hometown is the complete opposite of my childhood dream. It’s a relatively quiet small town with local shops and grocery store complexes lining up downtown. Only one shopping mall is nearby, and the other requires a 40-minute bus ride. It’s also surprising that the road has four lanes, but only a few cars are around.
For the first few weeks, I wondered, “What can we do for fun?” The thought became inevitable when my friend and I were the only people sitting in a fast-food restaurant. It also appeared when instead of bumping into a swarm of pedestrians, I found myself walking on an empty sidewalk.
As days went by, I began to discover new cultures and ways of living in London. The most notable difference is the surrounding coffee culture between Canada and Indonesia. It may be common for us Indonesians to find cafes with either lavish, eccentric, or Instagram-worthy interiors. Providing decent setups with charging spots and Wi-Fi has become compulsory as we love working from cafes. In London, however, a cafe is merely a place to sip a cup of coffee and take a break from what you’re doing. Instead of a grand design, they choose a simple and minimalistic layout.
There were also months of exploring and creating routines with my friends. We opted out of a meal plan in the student residence, so the malls and grocery stores became our most visited places. Weekends in a less busy city were more exciting as we grew fond of local thrift stores, trying different foods, or walking around the parks and neighbourhoods.
The more time I spent strolling around London, the more captivated I became by the immense beauty of this city. It felt precisely like unlocking secret sections in a video game map. Slowly, I started to fall in love with this new place that I got to call home.
The beauty of London lies in its people. I lost count of how many memorable encounters I had with the locals—from having a lovely conversation with the cashier lady, getting a warm greeting from an elderly couple at the park, meeting a kind young man at an ice cream shop, or playing along with a little kid on a bus. Seeing people helping each other out always warmed my heart.
My IISMA peers also make London more impeccable. They are the people that I deeply cherish. There’s the wise one, the humorous guy, the adventurous girl, the cultured boy, the shutterbug, the sweetest, the observer, the compassionate, and the one who’s been there all along. Every day was a good day, thanks to their company.
Another remarkable moment in London was experiencing three seasons in three and a half months. We arrived on a warm sunny day when the trees were green, the sky was clear and blue, and people wore T-shirts and shorts. Then the leaves gradually turned red and yellow and fell to the ground. One moment I was stepping on crisp leaves, and suddenly the whole town was covered in white. When stormy winter days came, people had to deal with layers of clothes to fight the cold.
What about your childhood dream of living in a metropolis?
I got a hint of living in a metropolis when I took a trip to Toronto and Montreal in early November. Toronto is the capital city of the province of Ontario, so it captures the lifestyle of a tireless metropolis with skyrocketing buildings. On the other hand, Montreal gleams its European influence on architecture. Their scenic spots, entertainment centres, and fancy restaurants are definitely on a different scale from what London has.
As much as I enjoyed my stay in Toronto and Montreal, I realised that living in a metropolis is no longer the ideal dream that 5-year-old me wished for. After spending most of my days in London, the urban city lifestyle feels just right. Although many greater cities surround London, its charms stand out in their own way. The locals, the small shops, the variety of foods, the university life, and the daily adventures complete the memory book I will treasure forever.
It didn’t take me long to realise that quiet does not mean boring, and small does not mean dull. When there are not many things going on, that is when every small thing feels meaningful. We are so caught up in life that we often forget to stop and look around. This serenity London brought opened my eyes to a new appreciation of various aspects of life. I went through the best three and a half months of my life, and these new perspectives will remain strong.
After all, my childhood dream was wrong. Having less indeed can provide more and even better. There is no guarantee of whether I will be revisiting London in the future, but a part of me is always calling to come back. The impression of quiet and boring London turns into a feeling of nice warm comfort. All the memories I made in London will forever feel like a cup of Tim Hortons hot chocolate on a cold winter day.
Felice is a Mathematics student at Parahyangan Catholic University. She went to Western University in Canada for her exchange and discovered that she has made a lifelong family with her IISMA peers. An introvert who enjoys socializing as long as her comfort person is around.