I’m sure most would agree that travelling is easy and fun. It means new experiences, new people, new places. But sometimes, it also means a new you. I came to that conclusion after I travelled abroad for the first time on my own – with emphasis on the last three words – and in the following paragraphs I will tell you exactly how it was and how it changed me.
One thing I have to mention before we jump into the story is that there were a lot of ‘firsts’ involved in this experience. Not only was this the first time travelling abroad by myself – meaning no parents included – but it was also the first time in Canada, the first time in a summer camp, the first time I had to use English outside school (English is not my first language) and the first time I was homesick. So, you can probably tell that the experience was nerve wracking to say the least, especially as I was only 15 at the time.
Now, let me give you some back-story first. My family have some friends in Canada and they invited me to spend a few weeks with them in the summer. Not everyone has a chance to go to Canada and as a teenager, eager to show off with anything I could, I said yes without thinking much of anything. I’m not saying I would take back that answer, because it was a really cool experience, but if I said yes today, it would be for better founded reasons, like a wish to develop myself. But, back to the story. I agreed to go the Canada and before I even realised, everything was arranged and I was on a plane.
I don’t know if any of you have ever travelled by plane as a minor, but I’m telling you, it was a very exciting thing for a 15-year old me. Because I was so young I needed special assistance up to the point where my parents ‘handed’ me to the frontier officer and our friends from Canada had to sign papers when I arrived there. So because I had a guardian with me the entire time, I got on the plane before anyone else and at the passport checking point, I had priority. I felt like a VIP which is so funny to think of it now. Another funny thing is that I had a stopover in Amsterdam where I had to wait a few hours for my flight. They put me in this room which was specially created for unaccompanied minors, but the catch was that the room looked like a kindergarten. It was designed for younger children, not for the ‘grown up’ and the ‘VIP’ that I was. I felt very uncomfortable then, but looking back it’s hilarious.
After two days spent at our friends’ house, the summer camp started, and this is where the juicy part begins as well. It was no surprise that I was the only one from my country, a few Spanish and American kids and the rest were Canadian. Because my name is hard to pronounce, I told them to call me by a name that I thought was a bit similar to my real one. So, for the next two weeks, I was called Mary. The camp was cool. I can’t deny it. I would send my children to that camp. Every kid and counsellor were sorted into a house. Very Harry Potter-esque, I know. I was in Ocawa – the yellow one. They had these awesome activities and these awesome people and these awesome ideas that were supposed to help children self-develop, but somehow, something didn’t work for me. I don’t know if it was because I couldn’t talk to my mum (they confiscated our phones at the start of the camp). Or if it was because I was so insecure about speaking English. Or if it was because they were constantly pushing us to get out of our comfort zone. Or because I didn’t know anyone there. But with every day that passed I became more and more homesick. I was fine during activities or when I was with my new friends, but as soon as I was left alone I was beginning to feel homesick. Mornings were the worst, when we had to wake up early and take showers. Breakfast was not that good either because I always felt like I was going to cry. By the end of the first week I felt so bad that I couldn’t hold the tears back and I started to cry for good. ORNJ, who loved oranges and was one of the leaders there, let me use his phone to call my mum. I am aware how confused and scared she must have been when she got a phone call from a foreign number and when she realised that on the other line it was her daughter crying. It was a weird situation. The whole time there was a blur and I couldn’t make too much sense of it. Come to think of it now, two weeks is such a short period of time, but back then I remember counting the minutes and days till the end of camp and I felt like the time was taking forever to pass. But, although the homesickness is the fastest thing to come to my mind when I think about Canada, there were obviously things I really enjoyed while I was there. Spending time with the friends that I made, the bonfires, the breaks by the lake, the muffins that the chef made, the goodbye ceremony when we received special badges. It wasn’t all bad, but if I could turn back time, I would totally approach the situation differently. I would try to make the most of it, enjoy myself as much as I could and try to learn as much as possible from the experience.
When the camp finally finished I got to spend the next few days visiting Toronto, but because our family friends were working, I had to do it by myself. They were living in the suburbs as well so they had to drop me off and pick me up from an underground station. I don’t know if you think this is easy or common, but to me it wasn’t. Imagine a frightened 15-year old in a huge city, not knowing where to go next. When I first emerged from the underground station, I was overwhelmed to see the skyscrapers (it was the first time I’d ever seen one) and that’s still a very vivid memory. But just as at camp, because I was alone (and scared) I didn’t enjoy visiting the city as much as I would have if I was with my parents or with someone else.
The reason why I chose to share this story is because I thought it might be of help to people who are afraid to get out of their comfort zone. Even if the things don’t turn out the way you want them to be, you can always learn something from your experiences, especially the bad ones. And, to end on a happier note, although I regret that I let my fears and insecurities dominate me, I’m very happy that I went through this experience because it definitely toughened me up. Who knows, maybe if I hadn’t done this, I wouldn’t have had the courage to come to York to study abroad. And if I hadn’t come to York, I wouldn’t have become a writer for The Yorker *wink wink*.