|Roses from my friend|
I am not a person to dwell in the past, but, every so often, things happen, anniversaries come and go, and I look back on my life's journey so far. I am approaching my 60th birthday and with the recent health diagnosis, I think this is as good a time as any to look back.
I've mentioned, in previous posts, a bit about my childhood. Very briefly, my mother had married a widower with 5 children; 4 boys and 1 girl. I am my mother's only child; my father's 6th child and 2nd daughter. My oldest half-brother was 16 years old and the youngest half-brother was 8 years old when I was born. So, I was definitely the baby sister. Spoilt and petted, teased and bullied, and bossed around. :)
My father died when I was 7 years old and things continued more or less the same for some time. But, eventually, things soured between my mother and her step children, especially after she met the person who would become her second husband. The household was dissolved after my half-sister married and left. It was a rather acrimonious dissolution. I was 10 years old. At the end of that year, 1966, when I was 11 years old, my mother remarried and my dentist became my stepfather. That's one way to cut down costs on braces, and so forth! :D My mother and stepfather had no children together; my stepfather always called me his daughter.
42 years ago, at the end of August, 1973, my mother, stepfather, and I left the country of our birth (Sri Lanka) and journeyed forth. I was 17 years old, and had just completed my high school education. My mother, a teacher with certificates from Britain, who had recently retired after teaching for 25 years, had received a post to teach English in Taiwan. But, on our way to Taiwan, we visited relatives in Malaysia and Hong Kong.
We visited more family while we were in Taiwan, as well. And I sat for a test known as Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). English was technically my second language, but I've been bilingual in my native language (Sinhalese) and English since I was a child.
After my mother's teaching job ended in Taiwan, we went back to Hong Kong, where she received another teaching position. While we were in Hong Kong, I sat for the London "O" (Ordinary) Level exams - similar to a high school exit exam. My parents (mother and stepfather) were planning to send me to Britain for my university studies.
But my life's journey has been steered by unseen forces. The most random of occurrences. One day, when we were in Hong Kong and my stepfather was out and about going about his business, it poured with rain. And he sought shelter from the rain by going into the nearest open doorway. Which happened to be the United States Information Services office (I understand that the name has since changed to US Information Agency). My stepfather introduced himself to the person in charge there and during the course of the conversation, my stepfather had mentioned me. The director had asked what was I doing and when my stepfather had said I was to apply to a British university (to follow in my father's footsteps), had asked why not a university in the US? He asked my stepfather to bring me along, so, the next day, we all went - my mother, my stepfather, and I. Apparently, a recruiting officer from the University of Wisconsin had just visited and they were looking for qualified applicants! I was encouraged to apply and so, I did! I still remember, on the way back to our apartment, my stepfather saying, "We'll go home and discuss this" and my mother saying, very decisively, "She's going"! My stepfather and I looked at each other and knew that there was nothing left to discuss! :D My mother was a very mild person, for the most part, but when she made up her mind, her word was law!
I stayed up late into the night filling out the forms and writing an essay as part of the application process. We delivered the forms the next day and they were faxed and the acceptance letter (and a tuition waiver scholarship!) was faxed back. All I needed to do was go to the embassy to get my visa. Oh, and show US $2,000 in the bank as security (plus money for the plane ticket, and room and board, etc., which the scholarship didn't cover).
Had we been in Sri Lanka, where we had assets and my stepfather's very successful dental practice, it might not have been a problem to find the funds. But we had left Sri Lanka at a time when we couldn't take any of our assets with us, and were in a foreign country, where the only source of income we had was my mother's salary as a teacher. $2,000 US was a fortune we didn't have, with no time to raise it before our appointment at the embassy. But, my mother was a resourceful person; she was determined her daughter was going to the US for her education. She took the only assets she had with her - her jewellery, her teaching certificates and contract. My student visa was granted based on what she had. Mother then pawned her jewellery to provide me with the additional $2,000 I needed to have on me to pay for the room and board, text books, etc., and for my plane ticket. My mother sewed the cashier's check inside my bra to make sure I didn't lose it! :D My aunt (stepfather's sister, who was also living in Hong Kong at the time) withdrew from her savings to provide part of the funds for my expenses.
I was 18 years old and taking my very first solo trip, going half way across the world, in the days before internet, video chats, emails, etc. Even an international phone call was going to be a very rare treat due to the cost. I sent weekly letters home. My stepfather saved each of my letters in a file folder - I found them all after he died. I still have them, although I have not re-read them.
I had been in the US for two years before my parents immigrated. It took that long for their paperwork to go through. But once they immigrated, they sponsored me and I changed my visa status to resident alien, and, eventually, naturalized citizen.
Wisconsin winters were too hard for my parents, so they moved to Florida, where I joined them after I graduated with my Bachelor's degree. But Florida was too lonely, and so, we packed the car with all our belongings (yes, at that time, all we owned fitted into our car!) and drove across the country to California, where we had family. That was 1978.
I went back to Wisconsin in 1980 to get my Master's. There was no tuition-waiver scholarship, this time. I did my degree in 1 1/2 years and returned to California. I couldn't find a job in my field for a few years, but, I accepted a clerical job and worked my way up. We moved from the single/studio apartment to a 2-bedroom apartment and, later, I bought my house. My stepfather died in 1987. My mother died in 2006. In between, I got married, had my daughter, got divorced, etc. My marriage broke up even before my daughter was born, although the divorce wasn't finalized until later; through it all, my mother was my staunch support.
So, today, I have reached this point in my journey. There have been times when I've hurried along, looking forward to arriving at the destination, impatient to start living my life once I arrived; and there have been times when I've dawdled along, unwillingly, reluctantly, dreading what I might find at the end upon arrival. I don't know where my journey will take me. Too often, I don't see what's ahead, it's only when I look back that I can see where I have been. But I do know that I am being led along my journey and I'm determined to appreciate the journey for what it is, no matter where I am being led. I hope to be a pleasant companion to others who might travel along with me for even part of the journey, and, leave them happy to have met me along their way.
And if you've read all this long post, thank you! I hope your journeys will lead you along pleasant pathways to a place where you want to be. Here's to pleasant journeys.
Love this post! Love hearing about your past!ReplyDelete
Thank you, Jess. :)Delete
So coincidental, I'm part of our university's team that travels to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Hanoi, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur for Education Expo which promotes our programs to foreign students with high TOEFL scores who are interested in obtaining their degree[s] from western universities. Consulate staff are tremendous help and always wonderful about dispensing our promotional materials.ReplyDelete
I've always wondered how our international students and their families make decisions about where to go and which faculty to choose. It's such an important, life changing selection that has potential to change an extended family's life path.
Hon, people often ask me why I chose the particular university I went to - with Wisconsin winters being so severe, etc. And I always tell them that it is because they gave me a scholarship, but the truth is, I never even considered applying to any other place! I had always wanted to come to the US, and I knew my parents were in the process of applying to immigrate, but I never thought I'd come by myself, without my parents, to attend university. I had no idea what the place was like or anything. Just that an opportunity opened up and it was decided that I would take it! It was a leap of faith and it worked out for me. I liked the university - I went back to the same place for my Masters.Delete
What an interesting and difficult life you had Bless. You are so kind and thoughtful, whatever your parents did it was great. You were fortunate to receive a scholarship. Continue to pray and think of you and will be holding your hand thru this next journey.DianaroReplyDelete
Dianaro, it has been an interesting life, indeed! No difficulties, just challenges. :) Definitely blessed to have received the scholarship; without it, I couldn't have gone to university. Thank you for your prayers and being there fore me. Really appreciate it. And thank you for commenting.Delete
What an interesting life you have had so far, Bless. No wonder you are so capable, traveling to a university so far from your mother and stepfather was a huge step requiring independence and resourcefulness.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Bushlady. I remember my mother asking me one question: "Daughter, are you afraid to go?" And I answered her, "No, I know the language." You see, when we were in Taiwan and Hong Kong, we didn't know Chinese (except for a few phrases we learned along the way) and I felt I could cope with anything in the US because I spoke the language! :D Oh, to be young and invincible!Delete
Thanks so much for an interesting post Bless! What an inspiration you are ... Hard work, persistence and a lot of faith result in a wonderful and rewarding life. :)ReplyDelete
Thank you, Carolyn. It has been a good life, so far. There have been a few rough spots, of course, but many blessings, too.Delete
No need to thank me for reading this long post! Lovely retrospective. To think you might have settled here instead of the US! We might have met! :o) But you might not have liked our winters!ReplyDelete
What did you choose to study/specialise in, in the USA? Do you still have opportunities to speak Sinhalese? Have you ever been back to visit Sri Lanka? (Too many questions ... sorry ... no need to answer!) My mother speaks four Indian languages but has forgotten bits of all of them, though it works better if she hears them for a time; then things start to come back to her.
I've visited England once, in the mid 1980s, and always wanted to go back, but haven't.Delete
I studied biology (BSc) and environmental science (MSc). I speak in Sinhalese with the monks at the Temple and with some of my friends, although my Sinhalese have become a bit rusty over the years. I tried to teach it to my daughter, but, she didn't want to learn it - she learned Japanese, instead! :D I went back to Sri Lanka a few times, but, the last time I went was in 1990! Have not gone back since! Don't know if I will ever go back, either. I have a few relatives still there (my oldest half brother, some cousins, etc.), but, I don't have a deep yearning to go back.
That should be "Sinhalese has"...I was going to write "Sinhalese skills have", but, obviously didn't! Proof reading what I type before hitting the publish button would help!Delete
Haha - I didn't even notice, and if I had, I would have known it was just a typo. I can't criticise lack of proofreading; as I scroll through to read your responses I too am noticing typos of my own (sometimes computer-generated - honest!)Delete
I wish Mum had brought me up bilingual - I love languages but it strikes me as a real gift to get one "free", i.e. without having to study.
It is a real gift to come into a language without having to study it, isn't it? :)Delete