Monday, July 23, 2012

Leaving home

Towards the end of a month largely spent wishing that time would suspend itself indefinitely, came what is referred to in the world of foreign exchange as D-day. On Monday June 25th, I spent the day with two of my closest friends and my girlfriend, ate all the Taco Bell I could manage and said goodbye to home.

From what I remember we left the house late afternoon and headed to Horicon, a town about a 45 minute drive away, which was the meet up point for all the AFS students in Wisconsin. We stopped to eat at an Arby's along the way (Dick ate, I was full from the T Bell and very upset) and arrived at Horicon at around 6-6.30pm. We pulled up to the bowling alley (which was our meeting point), I put my stuff in the corner with the others that would later be travelling on my bus to Illinois and about a half hour later I said goodbye to Dick, my father for the past ten and a half months. 

The rally point in Illinois was Elmhurst college, a university about 20 minutes drive from O'hare international airport. Unfortunately for us, the buses weren't set to leave until 2.30 in the morning. I don't know why they couldn't have set the meeting time at 10pm and given us an extra few hours with our loved ones instead of making us arrive before 7pm but that's what happened. We were provided with a virtually endless supply of pizza and soda as well as being able to bowl for free. Regardless, the wait was excruciating. I spent most of it hanging out with Pinky (the Thai girl who was also in Fort), reading (Bill Bryson's Made In America seemed an appropriate choice) and sleeping.

At approximately 2.30, we were loaded onto our bus and at approximately 3am we left for Illinois. I slept for almost the entire bus trip and given the early/late hour have no recollection of the time in between boarding in Horicon and arriving in Elmhurst. When we got off, we took our bags and put them in an assigned area within the Elmhurst College parking lot. They were grouped based on flight times so everyone in my group was flying out at roughly the same time from O'hare. In the end our group ended up being all of the students from Spain and my New Zealand friend who I flew into O'hare with ten and half months earlier.

Our bus from Elmhurst to O'hare wasn't due to leave until around 1.30pm so once again I had a significant amount to kill. I wasn't sure if Chelsea would be at Elmhurst at this point or whether she was due to arrive later in the day. I decided to wander around to see if I could find her and sure enough, within five minutes of arriving, I found her sitting with people she knew inside the Elmhurst gym. We talked for a little while and then decided we'd sleep away the time until our bus left. They had a room set up with wrestling mats to sleep on so we checked ourselves in there with a proposed wake up time of 12.30 since we had to be by the bus a little while before departure. We managed to sleep through til just after 11, not too bad of an effort considering it was during a time when we're used to waking up and being energised, not settling down to sleep!

By the time we woke up properly, used the bathroom etc there was very little time left. 1.30 rolled around, I said a quick goodbye to Pinky and we went to wait in the parking lot. Among the Spaniards catching our bus was Luis, a boy who had also spent the year in Fort Atkinson but had been a sophomore (two years younger than me). It was neat having people from Fort around me as they had shared in the year that I had just experienced and knew more than any of the other exchange students, exactly what I was going through. 

Our final bus came to take us to O'hare pretty much right on time. We got to the airport, said goodbye to our Spanish travel buddies and checked in for our flight to L.A. After we'd cleared security we had about three hours to wait, so Chelsea and I decided we'd find our gate and then find food. We found two seats and  decided to go off one at a time in pursuit of food so as to save our spot. 

I left first and bought two jelly-filled donuts and an iced coffee (I wasn't too hungry at this stage) along with  copy of Rolling Stone magazine, a Cosmopolitan (because real men read cosmo) and a book of crosswords to keep me busy. I came back and Chelsea left, returning later with Macdonalds and a Cosmo. I spent the rest of the wait talking to Chelsea and doing crosswords before an uneventful 4 hour flight to L.A.

Monday, June 25th 2012 was one of the most emotionally strenuous days that I have ever had to endure but I look forward to returning to Wisconsin and seeing my friends and family there again. My next post will cover the trip from L.A. back to the land I used to recognise as home. 

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