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.
Diego Rodriguez m/
Diego Rodriguez Heads Home from Malaysia
*g’thunk* *g’thunk* *g’thunk* goes my bike as I cascade down the jungle. My hands, slippery with sweat, white-knuckle the worn rubber handlebars. I can’t see the end to this downhill through the thick layers of vegetation that blind me, but the metallic gargling my bike-chain is making tells me that I may not be seated for much longer. “At least it’s not raining anymore,” I think to myself while my front tire momentarily loses its grip on the earth. *thud* I can already feel the bruises forming from continuously landing back on the seat. The slope gives way to flat ground and I find myself rolling into a small clearing populated by two men on the porch of a shack. There’s a white cat by my tire and some suspiciously skinny chickens strutting around by a row of crops. Luckily, the mosquitoes that have peppered my arms and legs with bites must’ve decided that this pause in the jungle isn’t the place for them. When the rest of our caravan of bikers arrives, we set off again, back into the brush. I felt uncomfortable showing up unexpectedly into someone else’s front yard anyway.
Now, in contrast to that adventure, I’m sitting in a comfortably air-conditioned library typing out this blog entry (my computer kinda broke down the other day… :/). It’s perplexing, imagining that in such a short amount of time I’m going to be launched back to America, when I’ve been gone for so long. I think about all that I’ve missed, all the potential memories that I could have made had I not taken leave. Memories alternate to the ones I’ve been given at Epsom. I don’t regret missing the last month and then some of school, it’s simply a hypothetical question I’ve been pondering for the last couple days. “What if I hadn’t gone on exchange? Who would I be that’s different than who I am now?” I’d certainly still be Diego Eligio Rodriguez. But I wouldn’t be the Diego Eligio Rodriguez who lived in Malaysia. The one who thought running for two classes a week didn’t sound too bad, until he realized that sprinting up and down a hill six times tends to induce the desire to vomit. Or the one who is becoming more in touch with his differences from other people, and embracing the parts that make him who he is. I might’ve been the Diego who shaped up in Algebra class, had a really insightful People’s Project, or any number of other things. But who can know?
When I awake tomorrow it’ll be May 25th, 2017. That’s my birthday… or is it? Because May 25th, 2017 in Malaysia isn’t the same May 25th, 2017 where I was born. When I awake tomorrow, it’s still going to be the 24th in Martinez, California. My sister will be on the bus home from school, my mom saying goodbye to her students for the day, my dad still working at bike repairs, and my brother might be at work, I don’t really know his hours. But regardless, this will all be happening on the 24th of May for them. They won’t join me on the 25th until the clock here hits 3 pm, at which point my plane will be taxiing for take-off. So when can I celebrate? At morning registration in Propert house or with the people seated next to me on the China Airlines flight?
Yikes, looks like I sidetracked a bit… where was I? Let me check that email from Mark for some inspiration. “Would you recommend going on exchange to 9th graders or have any tips for them?” Well, it’s hard to recommend something to someone you don’t know. But yeah, I think as a general statement, I would recommend exchange. There isn’t one definite thing that you’ll gain on exchange. Most of the time you won’t even know what it is you’ll find. Maybe you’ll find a friend that you come back years later to see, maybe an eye-opening perspective change that’s gonna alter the way you view the world and the way you live your life. Hell, I met someone who was just here to put “exchange in Malaysia” on their college application and couldn’t give a rat’s hat about the former two things I mentioned. So it really is a smorgasbord of possibility, going out and living somewhere new. Your best bet stepping off that airplane is to dump your expectations like a ten-ton stone and brace yourself for what comes next. If you’re stuck at whether or not to fill out the application to get shipped off abroad, remember, you might never get an opportunity to do something like this again. Admittedly, that line of reasoning has led me to some questionable decisions, but it’s been worth it all.
I should probably start to wind down this entry, considering that I’m going on one-and-a-half pages and the library closes soon. So, lemme tell you about one last thing: home. Home really is where you make it and I haven’t been living there for the last month. My home is a little stuccoed brown house on 1950 La Salle Street, Martinez, CA (come drop by sometime if you ain’t too busy). It’s got a side yard full of chickens and a front yard full of flowers. It’s filled to the brim with animals; probably too many for our own good, but I love em’ all to death. The six rooms of my house are constantly transitioning between hey-we’re-makin’-some-progress and wow-I-didn’t-know-we-got-tornado-season-in-California, but I wouldn’t dare live anywhere else. My family is a melting pot of emotions, happy and sad. With five people at once, it often is tiring to keep up with who’s-feeling-what, but I know that my we’re always gonna be there for each other. What I don’t know, is where else on this 7 billion person planet I would find that. And that’s led me to one last decision for my journey in Malaysia:
I’m ready to come home.