The Harbinger Online

A Long Way From Home: Katharine Swindells

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 9.10.08 AMHey Katharine, it’s me. I mean, it’s you, except I guess you go by Swindells now. Yeah, it sounds a little odd, you never really liked your last name. But it’s just one of the things, alongside barbecue and organized sports, that Kansas will change your mind on.

Let’s be honest, you’re in a strange place right now. You’re 16 years old and you’re about to leave the country that’s been your home for the past decade-and-a-half.

Your head is full of thoughts of “Grease” and “Clueless,” cliques and cheerleaders. You’re like Gabriella, except you’re not Hispanic and you can’t sing, and instead of “freaky genius girl” you’re “awkward British girl.” You’re picturing yourself in that scene where Cady can’t find anywhere to sit in the cafeteria, so she eats her sandwiches in the toilet cubicle. You’re starting to panic.

First off, chill the hell out. You survive. You dye your hair ginger, pass your classes and actually make some friends. It all works out okay. But still, there’s a few things I wish I’d known back then. So this is me – future you – offering you a little bit of wisdom that might help you get through the next crazy two years of your life.

Here’s the thing: Kansans are weird. They’re good people, but like super, super weird. They eat gravy for breakfast, listen to patriotic music and when they tell you to ‘have a good day,’ sometimes they actually mean it. They’re nothing like English people, and you have to learn to act differently around them. Let your guard down — be weird, be genuine. Smile at kids in the hallway and ask teachers how their days are going. Be nice. But, that being said, don’t go soft. You’re gonna need your bitchy streak if you ever want to survive back home.

Also, you know how you’re worried that the novelty of your foreignness will wear off and after a couple of weeks and people will stop being interested in you? It never wears off. It’s been almost two years and people still squeal when you say “bollocks” or “beans on toast.” So get over the fact that people are going to make fun of your accent, it’s inevitable. Yeah, it’s annoying, but as long as they kind of like your personality as well as your voice, it doesn’t really matter.

It’s going to get lonely sometimes, and it’s going to be hard. Some nights you’re going to cry yourself to sleep thinking about home, missing your friends and your school and your whole damn country. Even these days, two years later, there will be times when you wonder what life would have been like if you had never left. Maybe you would’ve got into Oxford, maybe you would’ve fallen in love — your heart will ache with the possibilities. Nothing I can tell you is gonna change that. But surround yourself with people who make you happy, who make you laugh until your stomach hurts and change the way you think about the world, and I promise the 104 weeks will fly by. And you’ll be right where I am now, sitting at your laptop a week away from graduation and wondering where the hell the time went.

Things will never go the way you expect them to. However much it may seem like it, American high school isn’t a movie. Not all cheerleaders are mean and, sadly, not all football players are hot. The story won’t end when you throw your graduation cap in the air, get crowned prom queen or run onto the football field to kiss Chad Michael-Murray. Instead, the crew will wrap up on “Katharine’s American Adventure” (coming soon to a theater near you) and you’ll be forced to look at the future stretching in front of you. It’s time to live life after the credits roll.

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