Reading about Leen’s experience on her first flight out to the UK brings back memories of my first flight out to Canada to mind. [Unfortunately mine is not as witty as hers.]
It was about eleven years ago, one family, one whole big bus, not the 15 seater mini van OK but a full pledge bus from the local bus company, went at 6:30 am to the airport. I have this HUGE and I mean HUGE suitcase with me. Perhaps I had two of them, my memory is getting fuzzy now. [Because I was allowed two pieces of luggage to North America you see.] What did I bring with me? Almost everything. Clothes. Food. Maggi. Rice cooker. Luckily no comforter. Lots of sweaters and winter jackets, some second hand, from friends and well wishers. Some shiny new ones as well. And there I was 6:30 am at the airport with two huge bags and a very very very heavy hand luggage which I could hardly carry myself, going to a country neither me nor my parents have ever been before, not knowing that to expect, what is ahead of me, going all alone.
Unfortunately there was no internet then and I could not do any research about the city I was going to as I can now. But luckily my mum had some colleagues who used to go to the same University I was going to. And so they could provide me with some snippets of how the place will be like. What the campus was like. They reassured me that I would have no problems because I was a very independent person, and I was a little daunted, but I was very determined to go. Because I had fought very hard to go.
The fight for me to study abroad was a long one. I didn’t get accepted at the local University but I knew that I could still further my studies, just not at my home country. But my parents, namely my dad was very reluctant to let me go. At first, they told me that it was financial reasons, that both were just civil servants and we didn’t have a money tree tucked away somewhere for them to send me abroad. So I told them I would take up a bank loan to finance my studies. And I would work part time while studying to supplement my expenditure. Luckily my mum was very supportive and she told me to do all my research, to find out how much I needed to study abroad and what I should do to find myself a place to study.
With my dad it wasn’t so easy. I understand now that to him, sending his eldest born abroad all alone, by herself when he is not a travelling man himself was very daunting indeed. My dad is the sort who did not like travelling himself and thus just the idea of his daughter going away to a place far, far away was incomprehensible.
But in the end my mum and his friends talked him into it. My mum realised that nothing will stop me from going, because even if I didn’t go then, I would find my own way to go eventually, because she understood that I had a thirst to see the world. I had told her that even if I wasn’t allowed to study abroad, I would eventually go backpacking by myself because I was determined to see the world beyond our tiny flat. Perhaps, secretly she too had the same ambition, and thus supported me.
My dad was further persuaded by his friends who had also sent their children abroad to study. They told him how much their children were learning from being independent and how much a difference it would make when they come back to find work as a graduate, rather than just an A –Level holder.
And so there I was, in a 30 seater bus at the airport early in the morning. At the last minute the night before I had called the student center in Canada telling them that I was coming and to please arrange for temporary accommodation for me and to send someone to fetch me.
Luckily I was not charged for excess luggage, and there I was embarking on the journey of fulfilling my dream. I think I was the first in my family to have taken such a long haul flight so it was a big deal to them. All my grandparents, aunties, uncles, neighbours, cousins were all at the airport with me.
If I was scared, I didn’t have time to think, just the burning desire to go.
I remember about a month before my flight, my auntie had approached me to ask me why I am going so far away to study. She said, afterall a woman’s place will be in the kitchen in the end and was it really necessary for me to go so far to get an education? I remember getting irritated a little bit by that remark but I wasn’t going to let anything pull me down then. Of course now many years later, her prediction isn’t too far. I am afterall a housewife and has been predominantly one since I got married. But for me then, the fact that the issue was raised showed the generation and mindset gap we had between us.
I realised how daunting it was only when I arrived at Vancouver airport. I suddenly realised that I was in a different country (duhh!) and I didn’t know where to go! Luckily for me there was a student receiving desk (I guess Canada does accept a lot of foreign students) and the nice girl showed me where to register myself to process my visa and where to send my luggage for my connecting flight to Calgary.
I still remember that moment when my visa was being processed like yesterday. There I was standing in front of this kindly looking bespectacled man with curly hair wearing a wedding ring. He asked to look at my papers which I had handy, and with a stamp in my passport, he told me I was set to go.
It was all a little bit of a blur after that. Until I reached Calgary that is. It was a small airport, and coming down from that escalator, I was very apprehensive. Oh no! What do I do if the University has forgotten to send someone to fetch me? Do I get a taxi to the University? What if I get ripped off? And where do I stay for the night? I somehow did not plan for this part of the trip.
Luckily for me there were some students from the Singapore Malaysian Association there waiting for me. I was relieved. They introduced themselves to me, and then proceeded to give me a mini tour of the city. Lily, the president was the club had one leg on a cast then from a motobike accident. And then there was 2 other guys, and another girl whom I have forgotten her name. They checked me in on Rez where a room would cost me $20.50 a day, where I can stay until I can find myself a permanent room.
And there I was, all alone, in that room, ready to pursue my dreams.
After unpacking some necessities, I decided to walk round the campus a little bit to explore. I found the little convenience store, the vending machine that sells Reese peanut butter and eventually the food court.
Guess what folks! I was too daunted, too scared to go up to the counter to buy any food or sit in the food court. In my mind, I was going, “Oh ramai nye Mat Salleh.” Duuuhh!!! I know, I know. It didn’t daunt to me until then that I was going to be in Mat Salleh land, and thus there would be lots of Mat Sallehs in Mat Salleh land! Silly me!
Since I was too afraid even to look at the menus to buy myself dinner, I walked back to my room, bought myself 4 Reese peanut butters to eat as my dinner. Those Reese peanut butter gave me the runs! Luckily the Rez was still quite empty then, so I could use the public toilets at my own convenience.
The following days got easier and easier when more new students from Malaysia came. I met Keat and Eileen and I also found the “white house” where I chose a room in the basement at $180 a month. Keat, Eileen and I hung out for quite a bit until semester starts.
Errrkk this story remind me to the fact that Keat had just gotten married recently and I have forgotten to send him a congratulatory card. With that I have to end this blog entry to find myself a card and a cheque. Funny how memory works doesn’t it.