“I don’t want to be here…” I said, my face forward, staring out to the ocean where the water was a deep oily blue, angry and thrashing as it mostly is in February on the UK’s Cornish coast.
“You’re going to be great!” my dad replied from the drivers seat beside me, taking a sip of his tea. It must have been cold; we’d been sitting in the beach carpark for half an hour.
He tried to hide it, but I knew Dad felt as nervous as I did, despite our chatter throughout the 300 miles and five hour journey.
Of course, we’d arrived way too early just in case we ‘hit traffic’. We couldn’t be late.
It was dark when we set off that morning, and it wasn’t much brighter as Dad checked his watch, pulled away from the carpark and drove towards the campus at Falmouth.
“You can do it,” he said.
We couldn’t make eye contact because we both knew I’d cry. Or he would. Or we both would.
I’d meant what I said. I didn’t want to be there. I was 18 years-old and embarking on my first ever interview for a place at university. I was wearing a proper ‘lady’ dress with clunky high heels, hauling an enormous portfolio of school work under my arm. I felt stupid.
I’d only ever known my small countryside village in middle England. The field opposite the house. The pub around the corner. The local shop, where only the magazines they sold interested me. How I waited with anticipation for the new issues to arrive so I could devour their other worldliness, outside of the tiny, leafy, comfortable, safe haven I’d grown up in.
This was my Dad’s world too, for over 40 years. He had never left the village. He didn’t have the qualifications for further education, or the privileges to travel, back in his day. That’s why he and Mum – who came from a neighbouring enclave – were so keen for me to be accepted as a student at Falmouth.
“If you hate it, you can just come home!” they’d assured me, “We’d just like for you to see more than the familiarity around you.”
They wanted me to explore, evolve, meet new people, mix with different cultures and to have moments they hadn’t had the opportunity to experience themselves. They wanted the best for me.
I got the place and I loved every minute of student living.
When I graduated I landed my dream job on the biggest selling teenage magazine in Britain. Little did I know then that I was embarking on a career in journalism that would bring me to Singapore.
My mum and dad are the best of me. They unselfishly urged me to live wild, free, independently, fearlessly and extraordinarily, and to know a life that they didn’t have the chance to.
Twenty years on, and living thousands of miles apart, I am forever grateful and they are forever proud. We still cannot make eye contact whenever we say goodbye to each another.