Diego Rodriguez arrives in Malaysia

Stepping off the airplane, the first thing that hits me is the humidity. The thick feeling of the air envelops my sweatpants-clad body and I realize I’ll really be needing those shorts in my suitcase. I sweat my way through immigration – the officer gives my passport a once over before letting me through, no questions asked. After wandering around the airport lobby for an indiscriminate amount of time, I hear a British accent address me from behind. “Hello, are you Diego Rodriguez?” inquired a man holding a sign with my name on it. He introduced himself as Steve Capon, however I reminded myself that I’d be addressing him as “Mr. Capon” or “Sir.” I’m still getting my “sirs” and “ma’ams” in order, two weeks later. We began our short drive to Epsom International from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Looking out the window, I can see through the rows of palm trees that appeared as an endless grid from my view in the airplane. I await what lies ahead.

Two weeks into my stay at Epsom, I’ve more or less adjusted to life here. My daily act of waking up and getting dressed (in what I see as much too formal for school) falls into a carefully crafted timetable that allows me some free time but for the most part guides my day through activities until after dinner. Because Epsom is primarily a boarding school, I’m living in the dorms with maybe fifty other boys (I haven’t counted). The school’s population is divided into multiple different houses that provide an instant community and participate in house related activities, earning awards and points for doing well; much like a wizardry school we are all too familiar with. I live in house Propert, which is, ironically enough, the ‘sports’ house. I think I’ve gotten past the point of having people ask me which sports I play, only to return with “none.”

And I suppose that leads me to another topic: the questions. There are oh so many of them. At least five times I’ve been presented with “So you’re from California? Oh so do you surf then? ‘Cause you’ve got that surfer hair thing goin’ on. No? Okay, I see you’re more of a skateboarding person then. Oh you don’t skate? That’s cool.” I guess I’m a bit less California then I thought. Upon entering the classroom of year fives that I help manage, I was immediately hit with a wave of “TRUMP OR HILLARY? TRUMP OR HILLARY?” Having  to answer for a government I don’t personally agree with is an interesting experience. In the Government and Politics class I participate in, I always look for opportunities to bring on that American perspective, as it is a class centered on UK politics. I was also asked if San Francisco was near Georgia, if I’d been to all 50 states, and had a sit down with a girl who must’ve had a list prepared because the amount of questions about American high school seemed endless. While I enjoyed answering them, it was hard to reply as Athenian is so radically different then the stereotypical American high school one might see on TV. Some of the questions included “Does everyone have a locker”, “Is everyone really divided into cliques?”, and “Do you sit at those desk seat things?” I recall these questions not to poke fun at the people who asked them (although some of the questions are a bit out there) but to look at how different an outside perspective of California and America sees these places and the people that inhabit them.

Now that I’m a bit into my stay, the adrenaline of being somewhere new has started to wear off and I focus less on the new things here because they aren’t as new to me anymore. It’s getting to the point where I look back on my life in America, thinking about when I return. I see pictures of my dogs from my family, I just missed one of their birthdays the other night. And on a more poignant note, over the weekend I got a call from my dad. I picked up the phone to the sound of muffled speech and crackling noises – he had accidentally pocket dialed me. I sat there in my bed calling out to him, “Dad! Dad look at the phone! I’m right here Dad!.” The only response I get is a quiet “Hi, how can I help you?” in his usual warm voice. He was at work with a customer. The next noise from the speaker is the tone as his pocket un-dials me. Something about that moment – calling into the void for my father who cannot hear me, while he is a pocket reach away – brought a tear to my eye. I thought about how fortunate I am to have such a close family. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about while at this boarding school. I don’t know if it’s a life I could live for much longer than my exchange, as I fear the separation from the people I love most would be devastating. While they may be a phone call away, it’s the physical isolation that gets me. Not being able to crawl into bed every night next to my dog, not being to give my mom a hug when she gets home from her long hours at work. To know that their lives continue without you; it’s not as if I get back and the timeline un-pauses. Memories are being made each day I’m away from which I am exempt.

However, I hold solace in the fact that these are passing feelings. Not that I won’t miss my family, but that it will eventually occupy less of my mind in the future. I have ~3 weeks left in my exchange and I’m so thankful for all those who have helped me get here, I never thought that I’d be able to participate in this kind of experience. I’m hopeful that these next few weeks will provide new and formative experiences to help me better understand who I am in an environment that is, for the most part, foreign. Until the day that I board that plane coming home, I’ll be writing and taking pictures to share my adventures with those back home, more than I — oh, looks like it’s raining again. Well then I suppose that’s it for now. See you then.

Signing out,

Diego Rodriguez m/