By: Lucy Dabbs, Georges P. Vanier Secondary School, participant of the 2017 Beijing International Education Exchange (BIEE) Summer Camp.
Although many dreams are achievable, stopping time is not one of them. When I awoke this quiet morning, my heart wished that it could stay in China forever, that the summer wouldn't end and every night we could spend on the field drinking mate and dancing to Spanish music. My heart wished I didn't have to leave all these amazing people, that it didn't have to get out of bed and pack my bags.
The rest of me however, couldn't wait to get home to the West Coast, to my nice bed and regular sleep schedule, to the fresh air and cool temperatures of the ocean. My brain knew that realistically I couldn't stay in China, and this camp would eventually come to an end. It also knew that this wasn't the end, that I would stay in touch with everyone and the good times we had here wouldn't be easily forgotten.
We were able to sleep in this morning, meaning we got up at 9AM compared to the usual 6:30 alarm. I still hadn't begun the torrential task of fitting the mountain of clothes and souvenirs accumulated over the week into my single duffle bag. I hadn't even thought about how I was going to fit my 30 cans of milk tea into my bag without it going overweight (that is an exaggeration, but only slightly).
Canada wasn't scheduled to leave for the airport until around 2 o'clock in the afternoon, so we had some time to say our goodbyes, to those who remained. All the groups were leaving at staggered times, and I didn't want to miss my last chance to see anyone. I left my packing for now, to go down and have the last meal of camp.
Part of me had hoped for something special, fantasized that maybe we'd have pancakes with real maple syrup and bacon. The other part though, wanted nothing more than the usual fried rice and fluffy kitten cakes and steamed bok choy. It was a reminder that some things stay the same, like the exact same food every day for eleven days. I wasn't complaining as I ate, my mind was preoccupied with philosophical thoughts about the meaning of life and the experiences we'd had at the camp. Y'know, the usual breakfast thoughts.
I found the BC kids in a group by the field and we all took a photo together, to remember everyone by. That is when the tears began, when we realized soon these photos would be all we had remaining of each other. Then our Argentinian friends showed up and there were more photos, exchanging of gifts, hugging and crying.
Argentina was leaving quite early, so we walked with them over to Confucius square at the front of the school where all their bags were piled up ready to go. We talked, hugged, cried and took more photos until it was time for their bus to leave. I didn't realize we'd made such a connection with them until they started to leave, and I felt a tugging in my gut. I am not normally emotional in public, but this was one of the few times in my life that I cried openly in a group of people.
Next, Switzerland left and I said goodbye to our friend Paolo from the night playing card games. One by one, the groups left and fewer people were left lingering around camp. I returned to our dorm to pack. Walking brought the hallways felt eerily quiet, my footsteps echoing through the vacant rooms. I remembered on the first day, hearing all the excited chatter of students settling into their rooms. Now, as I peered into tone room, all that remained was a few small food items left behind and the mussed up bed sheets. One thing I would not miss, our wooden beds.
I organized all my purchases, laying them all out on my bed. I looked at all the souvenirs, along with my collection of food from the friendship carnival and the vending machines. One by one, I placed them carefully in my bags, realizing that the next time I would take them out would be in my own bedroom, 9,456 km away.
By the time I had lugged my baggage down the flights of stairs and out into Confucius square, it was Canada’s time to leave. We boarded our bus, and sat quietly in our seats. As the bus pulled out of the lot, none of us said a word as we watched the camp disappear in the rear window. I think, on some level we were all feeling the same thing, and we all understood that this was it. The drive to the airport, our wait through the lineups of the airport and our check-in was all a blur. The only thing that awoke my senses was a miniature heart attack when I was pulled aside at the security checkpoint, the X-ray having spotted a suspicious amount of metal in my backpack. It was my eight fidget spinners.
As our plane climbed into the air, I stared out my window seat, tracing the Great Wall of China with my eyes as it snaked through the mountains. Soon, it disappeared out of view as we entered a blanket of clouds. I continued staring out the window, watching as the sun set on the Asian continent, turning the ruffled clouds a glorious pink and orange.
I will never forget the skills I learnt in China, of how much can be learned by talking to other people. These new perspectives and values are applicable in everyday life, and I plan on taking them home to Canada with me. I realized how many students I sit with in my classes every day and I've never talked to or said much more than hello or asked about an assignment. It's never too late to get to know people, and it makes your life a lot more interesting when you do. Everyone has a unique story to listen to, and who knows, you could even make a friend out of it.
My suitcase was full of souvenirs, stuffed pandas and fidget spinners, my orange shirt full of signatures, the camera roll of my iPod full of selfies. But the most important thing I took away with me was myself, full of memories and new perspectives. And a promise to visit all of the friends I made in other countries, in all corners of the world.