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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jones

Thirteen days and counting.

The night before I boarded a plane to Ushuaia, in November of 1998, my host had a few words of discouragement for me. She informed me that I did not know what it meant to be an exchange student. That had I been one of the other more perfect students in my group of 27, like Dylan or Laura, she would have been much better off. Instead, she got me–an uncaring, hurtful, incapable american. Granted, hours earlier her mother arrived with 5 kilos of Dulce de Leche for me and she’d given a souvenier matecito. Her final words were the loudest–I was a poor excuse for an exchange student.

The next morning I gathered my suitcases and bags and tried to quietly leave the apartment. It was a national holiday, so she was home. In front of the broken elevator, I told her, “If I hurt you, I never meant to, but last night–you did that on purpose.” Then I lugged 4 months worth of clothing and memories down another flight of stairs to the second elevator and left La Plata.

I couldn’t help but wonder if she was right. It was the most brutal evaluation of my personality that I had ever received. Supportive parents, teachers, friends, and administrators had never circled those on my evaluations–was it possible that 21 years worth of people were wrong and one woman who’d known me for four months in out second languages was right?

It took a couple weeks in a hostel in Ushuaia for me to decide that I would go with the 21 years of support from everyone else in my life and not pay her too much attention. But it is always the negative review that you pay attention to, not the 95% positive. It is the one student who says, “What business does a woman have running a men’s hall? Where does she get off?” and not the 12 that run to my aide when I am being harrassed by strangers outside my door.

As I prepare to leave London, Adriana’s words ring in my ears again. Have I blown being an exchange student all over again? Did my attitude ruin another experience abroad? Will the fact that I am going home without any British friends be a black mark on my evaluation?

Suddenly I’m thinking, I should make a quick run to Paris tomorrow. And that I should walk the Thames path from Putney to the Tower of London and back. That not only should I return to the British Museum, but I should go every day for the next thirteen and only eat fish n chips in new and different pubs each night. That I should eat curry and buy something with a Union Jack and fall in love with England enough to get a tatoo of the english rose on my bum. That I should at least be able to do a good British accent and I should go to the cinema.

But then I have to remember, that I have lived in London the way I have lived in all my destination cities. I didn’t do anything touristy in San Francisco until my last week. Or in Durango until my final year and only because I worked at the Chamber of Commerce. That in Chicago–I haven’t been to the Signature Room or on an architecture tour on the river.

Not having a fixed deadline and never knowing how long I was staying made it very difficult to “Sacar el jugo” from London for me. I’m not blaming the ever changing return date, but starting with two months and finding myself here five has been a daily struggle. Since it was indefinite, I didn’t want to lose touch with home and home things. I stayed connected with Nate for too long and became, for my first two months, exactly what I hate. That girl with a boyfriend (not in my case, just a boy who I cared for deeply and never quite made it work) at home who’s daily mood depends on his skills of correspondance.

Now I am in the process of disconnecting from my life in London. I sink in front of the couch and think, “This is my last Monday night in this apartment.” I woke up this morning, “This is my last Tuesday waking up in this bed. I really like my duvet.” Everything is now “the last this” or “the last that.”

And to top it all off, there are two episodes left of Sex in the City here. And I am going home before the final episode. Damn.

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