Countdown to lift-off: 25 days
While waiting in the stifling office of the Spanish Consulate with nauseating honeymooners looking for travel visas and a desperate old man clinging to the counter when told his visa wouldn’t come in time for a family together, I saw one girl standing in front of me who obviously was not Spanish. I leaned over in my seat as the hard plastic cushion stuck to my skin from the humidity, and nodded to the forms in her painted fingers.
“Where you’ going? Madrid? Barcelona?” I asked.
“Madrid too, awesome. Where you going?”
“No way, me too!
“Wow, well where do you go?”
“Waterloo…. don’t tell me…”
She stood there gaping. “Holy crap! No way.”
Out all the people getting student visas for Spain we just happened to be going to the exact same place and coming from the exact same school.
From our strange moment of connection we then checked out the large map on the wall as we waited for our numbers to be called and then exchanged numbers.
Since then Angela and I have had coffee together on campus, talking about her getting an apartment for two weeks with a Brazilian girl and about our plans once there (including my planned day to simply camp out in the Prado by all of Goya’s works). When I mentioned my mother was coming for the first week before I start school to help out with setting up bank accounts and getting a cell phone she gave me this deadpan expression. Okay… had I said something wrong?
Then when she was planning a theoretical Oktoberfest trip (that I could never afford) with me, her, and her German boyfriend, I mentioned that my Grandparents were meeting me in September and then flying me up to Liverpool for Thanksgiving.
She pulled back from the seat in Williams, moving her chai latte beside her face. “Okay wait, so is your entire family like going on this exchange with you or something?”
Apparently my family is practically lichen.
The more I thought about it though, and with the potential addition of my little sister coming up on her fall break, well, shit she was kind of right. I mean there Angela was, already having two years living alone in Japan under her belt with a no doubt sexy European boyfriend and plans of living downtown right near Latina.
And on the other hand there I was: hopelessly single and queer, planning to live in shared dorms again in the Getafe suburbs of Madrid, and having my family constantly checking up that I haven’t been smuggled across the Alboran Sea to Morocco for sex trafficking.
If she was the bright red foreign sports car of exchanges I was a soccer mom’s mini van complete with child locked windows.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to finally drag my grandparents out of their Liverpool cocoon and the idea of having my mom around to do some shopping has my wallet crying out in relief… but then there’s the idea of my mother coming with me to La Tomatina stuck in my head.
I keep getting these horrid flashbacks to middle school when I and an old friend Alanna had convinced both our mothers to drive us to Anime North, Toronto’s largest anime convention, for the cheapest and shortest day. For hours my mother did nothing but complain about how there was nothing to do, how it was weird that people spent money to buy anime merch, and how that middle aged man dressed as Sailor Moon needed help.
I preemptively feel like I’m that little kid again, having to constantly defend my interests, something I still often have to do with my parents. The idea of doing that with something I’ve had on my bucket list for years with my mother is concerning.
“What do you mean you just stand around and throw tomatoes? We could do that at home for 3 dollars.”
“It was so short, is that honestly really it?”
“Isn’t there anything else to it?”
The whole point of an exchange is to put yourself in situations were everything is foreign to you. The whole point of going alone is to do just that under your own terms without having to justify why you want to throw overripe tomatoes at people, or visit Speedy’s Cafe in London because of BBC’s Sherlock, or go to Chianti just to drink it with some fava beans (do you see the trend in a lot of my day trip choices?).
With your old life constantly popping in to remind you of it, I wonder if it’s going to be the romantic, soul-searching experience I picture it being (and it’s just that, a romantic notion practically stapled in my head from unrealistic books like “Eat, Pray, Love”).
This is why, no matter how much my family begs me to find someone to travel with once my exchange finishes, I really don’t want to. Not with Angela, not with anyone. And maybe that’s why the longer I stare at the route I’m taking once I’m finished the exchange the more inclined I am to add Bosnia to the list.
I want to stand alone in the one country my parents forbade me from going to in the middle of winter right beside the land mine signs. Like eating Lucky Charms for the first time in University I want to send the picture with the caption “YOU DONT CONTROL ME” like I’m some angst ridden teenager on a rebellion bent. Only this time freezing half to death in Mostar, Bosnia beside explosives.
It’s all very ‘first world problems’-esque.
So yes, my family is sticking to me like moss with this exchange, but damn if I’m going to let that make me into a family Sudan. Screw you sticky fingerprints and mini TVs with Dora the Explorer playing 24/7, I’m at least a Prius.