“Why have you come to England?”
I could see the customs officer’s lips moving and his British accent made me hear every word, but I still could not process what he was saying to me. The lights were too bright for my sleep deprived eyes and my feet ached from standing in line for two and a half hours. My purple rain jacket was tied around my waist and my hair was in a loose ponytail, but I could feel certain strands trying to break free. I felt completely disheveled and out of place in this big room full of different people from all over the world.
“I’m sorry, could you repeat the question?” I needed my brain to catch up with my body and focus on the task at hand. The customs officer gave me a small smile.
“Why have you come to England?”
It was a good question. I know he wanted the practical answer, but it was a question I had been asking myself for the last 12 hours.
I think the reality that I was leaving America didn’t sink in until I made it to Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts. My mom and step-dad Mike walked with me until I got to security, and then the moment I dreaded the most happened.
“Ok. This is it,” My mom was holding my hands with a strong grip and she smiled at me, “I love you so much!”
“I love you too!” I was so glad she didn’t burst into tears because if she had I would have too. She pulled me in tight for a hug and I buried my face in her shoulder. She was warm and smelled like home, but I knew I had to let go of her even though it was hard. I had never been away from her for this long or this far of a distance. She knew I needed this. I needed to see if I could be away from home if I could be strong enough on my own. In that moment she believed in me and that was all I needed.
“Stay safe and don’t do anything stupid.” Mike pointed his finger at me in warning. I laughed and rolled my eyes at him.
“Love you too!” I hugged him and he kissed my forehead. As I zig-zagged my way through the barricades to the front of security Mike called after me.
“But seriously, don’t have too much fun!” I rolled my eyes again.
“I can’t make any promises! But if it helps I’ll try to make my time there as kid-friendly as possible.”
“That’s all I’m asking for.” I shook my head at him and he laughed.
I made my way through security and I saw them still standing there. I gave them a big smile and blew a kiss in their direction. They smiled and waved back. I took one last look at them before I turned my back and headed for my terminal.
On the airplane, I leaned back against my chair and sighed feeling how uncomfortable it was. I knew I would not be able to get any sleep and would be exhausted when I got there, but for some reason, the thought didn’t bother me too much. The whole day I had been so calm. I thought by then I would have had a mental breakdown and would want to run screaming off the plane begging to go home, but it never happened. We lifted off towards the night sky and I couldn’t have felt any more content.
So there I was in front of the customs officer looking like a sleep-deprived train wreck telling him why I had come to England of all places.
“I’m here to study abroad.” When I said it I smiled at him and all of a sudden I had this urge to cry. Not because I was sad, but because I survived the journey both physically and emotionally. I was in England! Somewhere I have always wanted to see! Joy bubbled up inside me and I felt like I could burst.
After customs, I made my way outside and found my driver. The fresh air on my skin felt warm and wonderful. The morning sun was bright and as we drove through London and into the countryside, this place didn’t feel foreign to me. It felt like home.