“Thank you, have a great flight.” the flight attendant hung up the speaker. The engine noise of the plane hummed around us. Scenery started to move out the window as the plane taxied down the runway. Faster and faster, colors running together, and then, we were in the air. Buildings bigger than I became too small to see. Below us, the patchwork quilt of America faded away. We were finally on our way.
The night before we left, final loose ends were completed into the early hours of the morning. No one got much sleep. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 2:51 that afternoon, and we would arrive in London at 11:24 the next morning (7:00 am our time).
Seventeen bags (including Rachael’s two and her guitar) were loaded into cars with the help of my grandfather, two of my grandmothers, my Aunt Mary, and Jon Stewart from our church. The Greenville-Spartanburg airport sign appeared in the distance as we drove down the highway, the reality of it all not really hitting me. We had spent so much time in preparation, I couldn’t quite believe this was the moment of departure.
Thankfully, the bag check in and security was quick and easy. The final goodbyes were said, a few tears shed, and then, before we knew it, the plane was in the clouds – traveling over all that was familiar to us.
The first leg of our flight landed in the DC airport and was approximately an hour and a half. We had a four hour layover there, which gave us lots of time to eat burritos from California Tortilla and call friends (or sleep if you’re my Dad who did an all-nighter the night before we left). From that airport, we flew exactly fifty-five minutes to an international airport in Toronto, Canada. By that time, we were all very tired since it was close to midnight. We boarded a HUGE plane and set out across the Atlantic for a seven hour flight to London. I slept terribly (everyone did), and it didn’t help that the flight service decided to serve a lengthy meal to all the passengers at one in the morning.
Regardless, the plane touched down right on schedule. Getting through the UK customs was long, and lugging our baggage outside to the sixteen passenger bus isn’t something I would care to do again. Thankfully, the van driver was very friendly and gave us our first taste of England as we drove to Ellel. Despite our excitement at arriving, exhaustion took over on the hour long trip to the campus and mostly everyone fell asleep.
The scenery outside was enthralling. As we drove through Farnham, the old houses mixed with modern buildings formed the quaint, small town that we had been hoping for. The surrounding countryside sported bright green pastures bordered with trees, sheep, and old houses with moss-covered roofs.
Before we knew it, the gates of Ellel were before us. The campus dates back to the 1850’s as a family’s manor home. After that it was a boys’ boarding school until it was bought by Ellel in 1995. Since the campus is made up of historical buildings, the interior and exterior are the same as it was more than a hundred years ago. The antique beauty is evident in every facility we enter.
We felt welcomed as soon as we arrived. A sweet staff member named Jen Webb immediately showed us our accommodations in one of the front buildings fondly named Judah. This three-level building is adjacent to the main house and was once servant quarters near the stable yard. Our family is now housed in the bottom level of Judah. Our new home has four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, and lounge.
A basket of fruit, salad, eggs, cheese, towels, cookies (sorry biscuits), and a sweet card was on our kitchen table to greet us for our arrival. The rooms had obviously been set up in mind for us. Pink bedspreads for the little girls, food already in our fridge, and a big bouquet of flowers are some of the few personal touches that we were blessed with.
Rachael is staying in a dorm building named Joel a little ways from our house. She shares a big room with eight other girls, three bathrooms, and a little kitchen/ sitting area.
Upon our arrival, several staff members and students introduced themselves and welcomed us here. Jen gave us a brief tour to familiarize us with where the dining hall and main house was. After that, we returned back to our house and began to unpack our many suitcases. Much to our surprise, there were closets in each room along with several dressers and shelves; so organizing wasn’t quite as daunting as we had thought.
Six o’clock was dinner time – our first meal in the dining hall. We had met the head cook when we arrived, and were assured of the variety of ethnic foods served. Asian, Indian, British, and familiar American food have been served in the last day and a half! Our first dinner, “bangers and mash”, (a British name for sausage, mashed potatoes, peas, and gravy) was delicious and obviously homemade in the kitchen.
We all fell into our beds as soon as we got back home. Sleep and time for our minds to process were much needed.
All the time spent packing, buying, researching, and dreaming had been for this. Now we are here. Here – ready and excited. Excited for the doors God has opened for us, for the friends we will meet, for the things we will learn.
We are already falling in love with our new home.