The Ripple Effect; or That Time I Moved to the U.K.

Jan 28, 2014 by

We are all in for a real treat. My cousin Natalie has come up with a brilliant three-part series on what it has meant for her to move overseas. There are few people I am comfortable with writing for my blog with free reign, and Natalie is one of them. She is one of my favourite storytellers and one of the smartest people I know. I am going to let her take it away with her stories, and when we come back with our regular scheduled programming, I have a big announcement to make.

And now, ladies and gentleman… Natalie.


This series is meant to complement the section “I could totally live there…” Colleen asked me to write one for her blog. I’ve sat down and started writing something about living in London or living in France or places I’ve visited in Europe countless times. But I’ve never really been able to figure out what I was trying to say. As my thesis advisor always drilled me, “sure… but what’s your point?”

I’ve had friends and family ask me why I stopped blogging.  And I’ve told them that I’m too busy, or I have too many ideas, or I’m down right lazy. But thinking about it now, it was more than that. It was the fact that living abroad was honestly really hard to process. It’s easy to write about adventures when you’re traveling or when the end’s in sight. My friends Hilary and Alex are such fantastic travel writers; I figured it would be the same for me. I blogged while living in France a bit, but for London it was a different story. Living there was daunting and scary and thrilling all at the same time. How do you capture that in a 500 word blog post? After months of letting it stew, here goes… I totally lived in London.


Van Gogh

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” – Van Gogh

I was on the phone with my mom. It was December 2012. I was a third of the way through my Master’s Degree in London, England. I’m talking about quarter-life crises and how I’m so glad I didn’t have one because, I joke, so many of my friends are having one. “But,” my mom says, “wasn’t moving to the U.K. yours?”

We’re skipping ahead a bit; let’s start from the beginning.

Two years ago now, January 2012, I was sitting in my lovely apartment on MacLaren St., in Ottawa, surrounded by my favourite people, seriously stressing out about what to do after graduation.  And we all were. And still are, let’s be honest.

Without sounding too much like a parody of a “Millenial”, you can never really place the exact moment when your quarter-life crisis hits and you can never really tell when it’s over. Personally, I float between feeling as if I’m well passed it, to feeling as if I’m stuck right in the middle of it, to feeling as if it hasn’t even started. But in January 2012, something happened. Starting the final term of what was an almost too-good-to-be-true undergrad degree meant facing up to real life. Or what “real life” now means to so many people my age: the fact that I’d most assuredly be moving back in with the parents, underemployed or unemployed.

I spent the previous summer living abroad for the first time in France, and I traveled to London for a weekend. I’d always had the London School of Economics in the back of my mind as a cool place to study, and during this quick trip I happened to stumble onto its campus.

Fast-forward six months, and there I am – tea in mug, computer in lap – stressing out about what happens after April. I was talking to my roommate of three years Ariel and she was thinking of doing grad school in the U.K., so I googled Masters Programs at LSE. Within three weeks I had applied, been accepted and received a bursary. I was moving to London come September, and I was moving there with some of my best friends and my boyfriend.  I’ve successfully avoided living through a quarter-life crisis, I thought smugly. Or maybe not.

That last summer in Ottawa was spent swimming in Meech Lake, pub quizzes at the Royal Oak, dancing our faces off at Babylon, briefly struggling with unemployment, taking the LSATs, graduating, living with my best friends and counting down the days until I left Canada. London would be art gallery after pub after Masters course, and I had it planned. After spending three weeks at home in Winnipeg saying my goodbyes, I signed thoughtlessly onto lines of credit and figured I was ready.

I wasn’t ready, and that might have been a good thing. These three parts of my story aren’t meant to be one big rant about how horrible London can be, or how wonderful living in Europe is. It’s meant to be about how actively learning about yourself is an essential part of growing up. It’s how crisis swings in and out of a person’s life.


Arriving in London was frustrating and tedious. Instead of the thrill of moving to a new city swept up in the adventure, it was spending nights in cramped hostels underneath Waterloo Bridge, every single escalator in the tube breaking down on the same night, and finding out it’d be four months until our apartment might have internet.

But these sunless, frustrating days were also punctuated with the good. Sitting in a pub in Bloomsbury meeting fellow Canadians from Bracebridge who would become our closest friends in London. Visiting the Tate Modern on a sunny afternoon. Discovering half-price Martinis and basement Rock-eoke. Finding cats that lived in pubs, dressed like Tudors. Visiting the local cinema-bar-art-gallery-cafeteria-community co-op for cheap new releases. Stumbling into pubs with the cheapest beer and the fanciest bathrooms. And those are the first few months. That’s what you remember. You remember the best things, and slowly force out defeat.

Cat Collar


Stay tuned for the rest of Natalie’s journey of discovery and living abroad. And while we’re at it, pop over to my Facebook page and click the like button. Let’s be friends, ya filthy animals! You can also find me on twitter and instagram (colleenbrynntravels) where I often share pictures of my own filthy animals. Don’t be shy!

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  1. LOL to cats dressed as Tudor’s! Too funny. I can tell now that fantastic story telling runs in Colleen’s family. I like what you said about “It’s how crisis swings in and out of a person’s life.” And I would add how we react to that ebb and flow too. Fantastic post and I have a girlfriend at work who has always wanted to move to London that will enjoy this. Bring on Part II! 🙂

    • Colleen

      Haha thank you so much- yes the storytelling comes from our Irish blood for sure. Bunch of blarney over here.

  2. Love this Colleen and can hardly wait to read the rest of Natalie’s story!

    • Colleen

      Thanks Maria! All 3 parts are up now. Would love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

  3. I’ve recently started planning my long-term travels, was thinking I’d made a sensible, grown-up decision…but now you’ve got me wondering, am I actually having a quarter life crisis?!?

    • Colleen

      Haha who knows… Crises fluctuate. I always think my travel choices are fairly rational too… haha!

  4. Wendy

    Your post about London really make me miss my Mark even more. I met him in London but we got separated in Cambodia.
    It would be lovely to be able to stroll the busy streets of London again with my Mark.

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