by Miranda Stinson
Wednesday, 17 August 2011
A confession: I have not started packing for Harlaxton. Instead, I am in Bangkok, Thailand, half a world away from my family and my cat. I am living on one week of clothes, a step down from the two weeks I plan to bring to England. I know five words of the local language, only two of which I can pronounce, and today I paid a taxi driver 200 baht (the local inflated currency) in two 1,000-baht notes. Oops. Far from feeling like a smart traveler, I am beginning to fear that I have what I call Neville Longbottom Syndrome. In layman’s terms, I’m an idiot.
I’ve been here for eleven days, and I’m already homesick. How will I ever spend four months in a foreign country? But I realized today that I am less homesick for Indiana, family, and cat than I am homesick for Harlaxton. I took a class there this summer, and I am already anxious to be back. I miss the Manor with its steampunk lift and its bathrooms squashed into odd corridors. I miss Grantham, even though the bartender at the local pub claims it has been dubbed “the most boring town in the UK.” I miss the bus to Lincoln and the train to London, and maybe I even miss Heathrow. I miss standing on a Tube train at six o’clock, breathing the smells of Indian food and the London Evening Standard and general fatigue, wondering where everyone is going. I miss this country because it is the first place I have learned to be truly independent, because I think I understand it, because there I would never pay someone 20 pounds instead of two pounds
It was not always so. On the morning of May 13, 2011, I arrived at Heathrow Airport, running on two hours of sleep and roughly twenty American dollars. I could hardly contain my excitement. I was seriously in a foreign country. On the plane, a flight attendant had come around collecting rubbish! Now, tons of people with burgundy passports for The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland were queuing up at Immigration, one step away from going home. My excitement lasted exactly until I reached the front of my “Non-UK Citizens” line and a woman with thick eyeliner asked me, in an even thicker accent, the purpose of my visit.
“Study abroad,” I said, “and travel.”
“And what will you be studying?”
“Um. I’m taking a writing workshop,” I said.
“And what does that entail?”
So I broke the First Earl Kirk Rule of entering a foreign country. I babbled. Anyone who has ever taken a writing workshop will know that it is very difficult to describe one and make it sound legitimate. After various phrasings of “We write things,” she must have decided I was too inarticulate to be a terrorist (or, perhaps, a writer). She stamped my passport and shooed me on.
The worst was over. But suddenly everything seemed harder, even buying an egg-and-cress sandwich—which I did, once I had finally obtained my luggage and a small amount of British currency. When the woman at the café told me the price, I pulled out a fresh ten-pound note and stared at it like I had never seen it before; I hadn’t. As I sat down to eat and examine my change—all coins—I was reminded of another character from Harry Potter, the Muggle at the Quidditch World Cup; seeing Mr. Weasley’s pathetic attempt to spend real British money, he says, “You foreign?”
You never do quite get over that feeling of being a foreigner, I think. When I spoke it was always with an extra moment of calculation, an awareness of having an accent. But it becomes less paralyzing.
As I repack my one week of clothes and prepare for my final day in Bangkok, I take comfort in this knowledge. Though my time in Thailand has been full of embarrassments—and ordering a sandwich still makes my heart race—I am learning my way, just as I did in England and will do again.
Across the country, students from UE and other schools are busily preparing for August 25. They are photocopying their passports and health insurance, deciding how many sweaters to pack, and memorizing Mr. Kirk’s travel tips. (Nothing to declare, nothing to declare. I promise.) I hope they know they can never fully prepare. We will all learn as we go.
When I land in Indiana, I will have five days to sleep off my jetlag, to unpack my summer clothes and pack for fall in the UK, and to panic. I will probably do a lot of panicking. But this time, I know where I’m headed. This time, when I bid goodbye to my family and my cat, when I board the plane to Heathrow and get supremely jetlagged again, I will be going to a place I can learn to call home.