My high school backpack is ratty. The seams are worn, but not yet pulled, and the zippers get stuck. No matter how many times I empty it out, there is still sand in the bottom from trips to the beach in Valencia. The Jansport logo is faded, but relatively legible. The navy fabric is dull with use. It has lasted through college and graduate school, and been with me on more trips than I can remember. Now I’ll be stuffing it full of things again, ready to take it somewhere new.
Loan application submitted—check! Plane ticket purchased—check! Clothes sorted—check! List of places to visit—check! Place to live—um…
Preparing to move to England is an adventure all its own. I’ll be living in London for at least the next year of my life, and am packing everything I own into two suitcases and that old shabby backpack. Dreaming about moving was easy. Composing my writing sample (the first chapter of a novel about El Cid and his wife Jimena) was time consuming, but straightforward. Sending in my application to City University London—a breeze compared to the application processes in American schools. Now comes the hard part. I feel as though I’m making twenty decisions a day about what to take, where to live, how much loan money to borrow. My mind is a whirlpool of options, each one able to impact the next year, and beyond. Things that I never had to think about here, like whether or not I’ll have easy access to a printer or how I’m going to get my groceries home sans my car, tumble around in my head day and night. Do I want to stay when my program is finished and get a job? Maybe live there the required five years before I can get dual citizenship? How often can I afford to come home to visit my friends and my family? Wishful thinking tells me I’ll be able to travel anywhere I like on my long weekends, but I have the feeling my wallet may object.
This morning, after I had shut off my alarm, I lay thinking about my visa application. I rolled over, and saw the ratty backpack. It slumped against the closet door, still half packed with teaching supplies from my most recent move. The big pocket was open, and loose threads from the lining hung out like searching fingers. I looked at the small front pouch full of pens and pencils and the same red pocket dictionary I had in eighth grade, the pages highlighted and dog-eared. I remembered myself in high school with that backpack. My classmates used to ask me if I knew the meaning of vocabulary words, and I would stealthily pull the dictionary out, look up the word, and then pretend I had known it all along. If they caught on, they were nice enough to never say so. I was the class bookworm. I was supposed to know all these things.
High school me, with her new high school backpack, never knew she’d be here, now, making plans to change her entire life. She dreamed of a country she had never seen, but read about more than anywhere else. During English class, she relished British poetry, and longed to skip over the American authors. She saw a picture of young Alfred Lord Tennyson in her textbook and read The Charge of the Light Brigade for the first time. When class was over, the book went into the backpack, but the poem stayed with her. Into the valley of Death / Rode the six hundred.
So I’ll go with my backpack and my head full of poetry. The scales may be faulty, but somehow the dreams of a sixteen year old girl outweigh the real-life stress of becoming an expat.