Monday, January 20, 2014

Stepping Out On My Own

I stared at the email, having trouble believing what I was reading was true.  I tore upstairs to tell my mom the news: there had been a cancellation by another student, freeing up a space, and my application had been accepted!  If I could get everything ready, in two weeks I would be in Scotland to participate in a six-month school program with Youth With a Mission!  If this was to happen, there was much to consider and do in such a short time frame.  I had only been working at my coffee shop for a short number of months, but it was a job I loved and did not wish to lose.  I also had a couple of relationship dilemmas.  A strained friendship needed mending and I was struggling to understand the fledgling romantic relationship I found myself on the verge of entering.  But Scotland and the unknown called!  I let everyone know and threw myself into preparing for the trip.  Those two hectic weeks flew by, and before I knew it, I was preparing to board a plane that was taking me to one of the most pivotal seasons in my life.

As the plane flew over Scotland, I stared in disbelief at the land below me.  It was green down there.  Green.  In January.  Where was the snow?  It was the first of many differences I was to experience on my first solo trip overseas.  Despite my initial excitement upon my acceptance into the school, I was not truly excited during the flight.  The flight to Scotland from Alaska was a grueling nineteen hours, leaving me drained.  I disembarked from the plane and made it through customs (and the unsmiling custom officials) without a hitch, though my step was slow.  I manhandled my large, black suitcase from the conveyor belt and plopped my carry-on on top of it to make it easier to transport.  I had a bus to catch.  

I made it to the bus stop without a problem, barely noticing my surroundings, but getting on the bus was pure travail.  While the stair entry was spacious, it was divided by a handrail, which drastically narrowed the space.  My suitcase was wide enough that it would not fit easily in the narrow space and my carry-on and tired clumsiness helped compound the difficulty.  I struggled to get my bag up on the bus and fell.  My face heated up in embarrassment, and tears of exhaustion threatened when I looked up to discover the entire busload of passengers watching me, but no one willing to come to my aid.  After what seemed an interminable time, I managed to get on the bus with my luggage, with no help from anyone around me, and pay my fare.  Scotland was not giving me a wonderful first impression.

I left the bus at the Paisley train station, once again without help.  I went to the ticket window and purchased a one-way ticket to West Kilbride.  From there, I made my way to my platform.  I had been warned about the stairs, but I was still caught by surprise.  For some reason, I thought the stairs would be narrow and steep, maybe even a spiral, but I was not expecting the very wide staircase before me that seemed to climb to the heavens.  No wonder I was warned.  I just stared at the stairs, and then at my bags.  I had to carry my luggage up this monster staircase and I just did not know if I had the energy. 

I squared my shoulders, took a deep breath, and prepared to heft my suitcase and carry-on.  Just as I grabbed the handles, I heard a soft Scottish voice offer to grab my suitcase for me.  I looked up to see the ticket seller standing next to me.  Without another word, he grabbed my suitcase and carried it up the incredibly tall staircase and to my platform.  I thanked him gratefully.  Maybe the Scots were nicer than the passengers on the bus had led me to believe.  I drooped tiredly over my luggage, trying to stay awake as I waited for my train.  An elderly Scottish lady came up to me and asked if I would watch her bags for her while she went to use the loo.  After she returned, we chatted until the train came.  Scotland was starting to look a bit more pleasant, and being able to take the time to enjoy the Scottish bur in the woman’s voice helped considerably.

The train ride was a blur.  My eyes were focused intently on the darkening landscape, paying attention to the station signs as they went past in an effort to not miss my stop.  I barely registered the beautiful views of the waves crashing against the shore as the sun sank or the picturesque Scottish villages the train rumbled through.  I fought to keep my eyes open and to tamp panic down, for I did not know what waited for me in West Kilbride.  It was not clear if I was going to be met at the station, or if it was necessary for me to call a taxi or walk to the school.  I was exhausted and growing increasingly nervous.  Now that I had landed in this foreign land, I was starting to wonder if I was supposed to be there and just what it was I thought I was doing.  My eyelids kept drooping, my body swayed with the smooth rhythm of the train, which encouraged my already tired body to let go and slumber.  Just as I thought I would not be able to remain awake any longer, the train arrived at my stop.

I got off the train with a minimal fuss and looked around, not sure what I was looking for.  A man waved at me.  He was slightly heavy-set and not too much taller than me.  He approached, and in a British accent, queried after my identity.  When I confirmed my identity, he informed me that his name was Lee and he was there to take me to the school.  My shoulders sagged in relief.  My journey was almost over.  Lee took my bags from me and stowed them in the boot of the car.  Once everything was loaded, we drove to the school.  

The school stood on top of a hill, overlooking the school grounds, the village, and the sea.  The building was beautiful and grand to me.  Through a young foreigner’s uneducated eyes, it seemed like a castle, though in reality it had once been a convalescence home.  Either way, the building was old and beautiful and the grounds were lush… and green.  Even in my tired state, I could not get over how green everything was in January.  I already found myself missing snow. As Lee pulled into the parking lot, I drank in the surrounding scenery and massive building.

Once the car was parked and unloaded, I was ushered into the school building.  I was led to a flight of stairs and told that my room was at the top.  I stared in dismay at a set of stairs that threatened to put the train station stairs to shame.  I stiffened my resolve.  My eldest brother had warned me that when I traveled, I should only pack what I could carry, for I could not rely on help. To prove to him and to myself that I could do it, I turned down an offer of help, and carried my luggage up the two long flights of stairs.  I managed to make it up without dropping anything or falling on my face.  Once at the top, I followed my guide past the other rooms from which popped the heads of the other female students as they checked out the new arrival.  I was shown my room and informed that there would be a meeting in just a little bit to greet all of the new students.  While I stowed my luggage away, I exchanged introductions with my two roommates: one a fellow American from Seattle, the other a woman originally from Holland, but living in Spain for the past decade.  All of the excitement and wonder that I had expected to hit me once I arrived at my destination had not arrived yet.  Instead, I grew increasingly nervous, wondering if I had made a huge mistake. 

What did I think I was doing?  Why did I think I should go to Scotland for six months, leaving my family, friends, recently acquired job, and a new, tenuous romantic relationship behind?  I was tired, nervous, and second guessing myself.  I had always wanted to travel, and my appetite for it had been whetted when my parents and I made a trip to the United Kingdom just two years prior.  I wanted to be at this school in Scotland, but was starting to wonder if I was supposed to be here.

When the time for the greeting meeting arrived, I made my way downstairs with the others.  We all found seats in the chairs, couches, and pillows that were spread throughout the large room.  I barely noticed the large windows looking out over the darkened garden, focusing instead on Lee, who was standing in front of the group.  Lee stared solemnly at us and said, “There are those of you that doubt whether you are should be here.  I want to let you know that you are all supposed to be here.  Welcome to Scotland.”  Relief flowed through me, the excitement that I had been waiting for finally arrived, and I knew that I was not going to leave Scotland as the same person who had stumbled in.