In December 2006, I jumped into the River Cherwell, a river in Oxford, England, that crosses University Parks on the north side of town.

It was the end of our study abroad semester and a few friends and I had the wild idea to jump off a low bridge into the water on one of our last days of class. We were twenty years old and had survived a semester overseas away from our families and friends and everything familiar. We would honor the experience, cement it into our souls by plunging into the coldest water I have ever felt.

A group of our classmates had come with us to watch, skeptical we would follow through. When we did, they helped pull us out of the water and over the grassy edge. Shivering, we smiled proudly for the cameras.

About two years later I found myself back in Oxford, this time to do a master’s in English at a school called Oxford-Brookes University. I also found myself back along the river, this time at a pub that sat on the River Thames.

I was eating lunch with a group of English friends I knew from church. Well, they weren’t so much my friends as they were acquaintances who I hoped would turn into friends. I had been living in Oxford for only a few weeks and friends were something I needed desperately. This lunch, I thought, would solidify my place here.

That’s not exactly what happened.

Although I sat near them, I felt far from my lunch companions that day. First, there was the matter of my appearance. I wore clothes purchased from stores no one shopped in here. I had meticulously straightened my hair, which, I would learn, was not exactly the fashion for English girls.

Besides how I looked in comparison to the others, I also struggled with the conversation. Their accents muddled things, but so did words and phrases that were familiar to me yet had new definitions in this country. Words like fancy and pudding and pavement.

I thought life in England would be a simple transition from home. I had been there before, and, most importantly, I spoke the language. Or so I thought. In reality, no matter how similar a language seems on the page or sounds to the ear, what we actually speak is a language informed by our surroundings and upbringings. We speak our food, our weather, our societal habits and quirks. We speak what we were taught by our parents, political leaders, friends, pop-star idols, and grocery-store clerks. That’s what I spoke in Oxford, and it wasn’t translating well.

As the others talked, I looked at the brown water of the Thames. I didn’t know where that brave girl was from two years before who had jumped off a bridge in her swimsuit, breaking the cold surface of the river below. This time by the river felt different. I sat with strangers who were English and to whom the river was regular life. They didn’t need to jump into it to feel some sort of rush.

I sat in this loneliness in Oxford for a little while. I wandered the streets alone, hoping to find companionship with the city itself. I explored back alleyways and sat in cafes and coffee shops with my books. I studied in the school’s ancient library. I ran my hand along the city’s old, strong walls. Soon though, I knew that exploring Oxford on my own was not going to be enough to cure my loneliness. “We are born helpless,” wrote C. S. Lewis. “As soon as we are fully conscious we discover loneliness. We need others physically, emotionally, intellectually; we need them if we are to know anything, even ourselves.”

Friends were not going to come to me. Acceptance was not going to arrive on my doorstep. After a while when I finally woke up and realized I had made fifty acquaintances in Oxford and zero friends, I knew it was time to do something. A layer of safety and comfort needed to be shed. I needed to channel the girl who had jumped into the River Cherwell. So in a moment of courage, or desperation, I invited people from class over for dinner.

I didn’t know them well. We had had the occasional postclass chats and a couple of coffees together, but we had not been to each other’s homes. I invited Sophie and her boyfriend, who were from South Africa. I invited Ben, who was from England, and I invited Mac, who was from Philadelphia, the only other American in our class.

In my little Oxford kitchen, I had exactly five plates, five cups, five forks and five knives. I didn’t have much cooking ware, so Sophie brought a large pot and wooden spoon and ladle. She taught me how to cook curry, something I had only tried but never made myself. She chopped chicken and vegetables and showed me what curry powder she liked to use.

We ate in my living room with plates on our laps and talked and laughed for a long time. Mac brought chestnuts he had purchased from a street vendor, and we toasted them in a sauté pan to have for dessert, while Ben unwrapped Cadbury chocolate bars to break off and share. The chocolate melted slightly from the heat of the chestnuts.

Curry, chestnuts, chocolate. It was an odd meal, but in the middle of it, I started to feel like myself again. I felt all wrapped up in the smoky aroma of the chestnuts. I felt like I might survive this country after all, and that the people who appeared to be nothing like me were actually a lot like me, and I was a lot like them.

**

If you look at a map of Oxford, you will see that the River Cherwell eventually meets the River Thames. They come together and form one beautiful, long stream. This doesn’t surprise me at all.

1.C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2012), 2.

 

 

Giveaway

We’re giving away one copy of Andrea’s new book, English Lessons: The Crooked Path of Growing Towards Faith.To enter, simply leave a comment below, and we will draw one winner at random. 

*U.S. residents only. Giveaway ends May 10th. Earn additional entries by sharing on social media. 

Andrea Lucado
Andrea Lucado / Posts / Blog
Andrea Lucado is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. She is the author of English Lessons: The Crooked Path of Growing Toward Faith. The daughter of a writer, Andrea has always been obsessed with words and their arrangement. She has a Master’s in English Literature from Oxford-Brookes University and contributes regularly to online and print publications such as Relevant Magazine and She Reads Truth. When she is not conducting interviews or writing stories, you can find her laughing with friends at a coffee shop or running the Texas Hill Country. Keep up with her work at AndreaLucado.com.
  • Andrea Thomas
    http://Andrea

    I love reading about lessons learned in different seasons of life!

    May 5th, 2017 10:03
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  • Katie

    Thank you for the quote from C. S. Lewis and for sharing your life lesson.
    “They come together and form one, beautiful long stream.” Yes:)
    God is so good to give us relationships.

    May 5th, 2017 10:46
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  • TM

    Chestnuts will forever remind me of a kind stranger who offered me some of them on a metro in Milan. As a lonely teenager living there, his gesture touched my heart and made the world a little less foreign. Loved reading this piece.

    May 5th, 2017 11:07
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    03
  • Lorilee Mundfrom

    Such a descriptive story of finding oneself in a state of loneliness amidst lots of people. I love how you “dared” to reach out to classmates and didn’t wait for them to invite you!

    May 5th, 2017 11:53
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  • Deb
    http://hiswonderfuldeeds.com

    “Friends are not going to come to me.” This can also be true for church life. Unfortunately, sometimes we have to take the initiative instead of waiting for others to do it.

    May 5th, 2017 11:55
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    05
  • Jenn Palmer
    http://choosingthismoment.com

    I love the reflection on language – that what we speak is informed by so many things. Beautiful post. Thank you.

    May 5th, 2017 12:03
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    06
  • Karen Questel

    Beautiful post! I would love to read your book.

    May 5th, 2017 14:06
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    07
  • Addie

    being an introvert, I identify with this so much and especially the struggle with being vulnerable and the first one to try… thank you for sharing!

    May 5th, 2017 14:08
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    08
    • Kris
      http://kriscamealy.com

      Hi Addie,

      Thanks for reading! Would you please pass along your mailing address? You are the winner of Andrea’s book! 🙂 email us at welcometogracetable@gmail.com

      Congrats!

      May 15th, 2017 8:54
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      09
  • Tammy M.

    Sounds like a wonderful book; I’d love to win a copy!

    May 5th, 2017 15:20
    Reply
    10
  • Carol Sumner

    I have spent a fair amount of time lonely myself. I know the pain. Thankful for sweet friends to share time with. I’m sure your book is wonderful.

    May 5th, 2017 15:33
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    11
  • Tracey

    Sounds fantastic. Makes me crave some chocolate but most importantly some companionship

    May 5th, 2017 16:47
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    12
  • Gretchen N.

    Community is so important but so intimidating sometimes. A good reminder that often we need to take that first step!

    May 5th, 2017 17:26
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  • stephanie
    http://stephanie

    I’d love to read this book!

    May 5th, 2017 17:48
    Reply
    14
  • Bonnie Jean

    Friendship can be hard to find… even in the midst of those who speak your language… go to your church or school… even where you think that it would come easily. Loneliness, on the other hand, seems to be all around when you feel disconnected… or not a part of the group. I have been praying for the Lord to show me who might be a friend or who I might befriend… and so I am waiting. I have never had such a difficult time finding friends… but this world of constant hurrying… overscheduling… people with their heads down typing into the latest phones… make it so hard to find a friend… to even have a conversation. Your book sounds interesting. Perhaps it will be an answer to my prayers… or a direction to take.

    May 5th, 2017 19:58
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    15
  • Cherish

    Wonderful, sounds like a great book to read!

    May 6th, 2017 0:57
    Reply
    16
  • Beth
    https://rejoicinghills.wordpress.com

    I enjoyed this so much, and I’d love to read the book! Thanks for the chance to win a copy!

    May 6th, 2017 11:21
    Reply
    17
  • Maria

    Thirty years ago I met my daughter( who was studying in England) for five weeks of hiking and ” hosteling” around Europe. It was a wonderful, exciting adventure, but towards the end I couldn’t wait to get home to people who knew me and who I really knew. My heart longed for that intimate connection.

    May 6th, 2017 14:17
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    18
  • Rebecca

    Your bravery in doing the hard thing and inviting others over inspires me. Thank you. Now who can I invite over to my house?

    May 6th, 2017 17:12
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    19
  • Brandi Luiz

    Andrea’s writing is fliwing and inviting. Invites me in for more, more of what she has learned and wants to share with me.

    May 7th, 2017 18:09
    Reply
    20
  • Janie

    Looks like a good book!

    May 9th, 2017 6:28
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    22
  • Melanie Blank

    Having lived overseas for a short time, I can relate to this. Would love to read your book.

    May 12th, 2017 13:28
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    23

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