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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

Exactly four years ago…

So in my big clean-up today, you’ll never guess what I just came across. My itinerary from November 4, 2003, when I got on British Air flight 298 at 8:15 PM and flew from Chicago to London.

“No less than two months, no more than three.”

My return flight was scheduled for February 4, 2004. And I came home that day for a week and then returned to London until just shy of my 27th birthday. Somewhere around here, but I’m not exactly sure where, is my journal from the day I got assigned the London gig. I was doing morning pages at the time and wrote a prayer, although at the time I wouldn’t have called it a prayer, that my work situation would change sooner than later. It was a desperate plea between me and God, but at the time I didn’t call it God either.

I took very little time to make the decision, less than 24 hours. A week or two earlier, I’d been in Minnesota where I saw TokyoBoy and it was becoming clear that things between us weren’t going to pan out. (Yeah, yeah, I didn’t really accept that until New Years, but I didn’t have a romantic reason to be in Chicago.) It was a chance of a lifetime–a brief transfer to London. An opportunity to see if I’d forgotten what I loved about working in college housing. A chance to go to Europe.

Why was I so desperate to leave IES Chicago? I didn’t have my masters or plans to get my masters. That summer, the day of the summer party in 2003, it was made clear to me that the promotion I’d received was the only promotion I would ever receive there. In one year, I’d climbed to the top of the career step-ladder. Harumph. I was happy working nights at an Ice Cream Parlor, but that wasn’t much money.

So I said yes. I wrote out a few rent checks, bought an awful lot of cat food and kitty litter, and had friends over on November 2 for a packing party. People brought wine and treats and watched me pack two suitcases. We laughed a lot. I was already done crying, I’d done that the week before when I thought nobody would come to happy hour with me to say goodbye. I burst into tears in the mail room, trying to get something copied or stapled. I don’t remember, but I remember sobbing and poor John Mulhern having to deal with me.

I made phone calls, sent emails, and gave my mentee a box of cards and a set of stamps to write to me with. My parents came up for the weekend to say goodbye and good luck and schlep me to Target to buy a good suitcase. And then four years ago, I was sitting in the international terminal at O’hare. Leaving Chicago.


London was a good experience and a terrible experience. Four years later, it has softened and I barely remember what was so hard about it. But it was rough and wonderful. Things with TokyoBoy were limited to email and 3-minute phone calls. I slept to the sounds of the BBC shipping news.

I had 300 international students in the posh, heart of London. I found out that I did not, actually, miss being a hall director. I didn’t miss living in. I didn’t miss discipline. What I did miss when I was in London was privacy and Chicago. God, did I miss Chicago.

Let’s not forget that everything is connected. Everything.

In London, I realized that mass-emails were not going to be appropriate so I started blogging. Remember when this was called Leah in London? It was the need to replace mass-emails with something that got me this blog. Blogging eventually got me my gig at Edelman. Well, blogging and some bounced checks from the Ice Cream Parlor.

I had a lot of fun in London, some adventures, some mis-adventures, some trips, and made wonderful friends. I met Israelis and saw how quickly the life of a homeless person can be disappeared after he dies. I wrote a lot and watched a lot and walked a lot. I drank a lot of coffee and boiled my laundry in the washer/dryer.

It’s hard to say how it changed me. London made me realize that although I’m pretty good at it, student services is not where I belong. London showed me how much I love Chicago. London reminded me that I l like being physically close to my family. I also learned that I don’t need much stuff, not an easy lesson to remember though, let’s be honest.

(The cartoon is Hugh‘s. I’m not sure we overlapped in London, but we sometimes feel the same way about the city.)

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