Somewhere Only We Know
I vividly remember the day we sat by the lake as usual.
“There are only two weeks left, and you guys will leave this island…” He murmured. We halted and looked to the splashing waves and seagull-screams. It was as if the surrounding sounds were magnified to remind us that the time to say good-bye has drawn near. After some silence another friend spoke. This time in an uplifted tone: “Let’s make the most of these two weeks!” And we looked at each other, the smile appeared on our faces.
It was the summer of 2010 in Mackinac Island, a fairytale island where it all began.
It has always been my dream to travel around the world. Despite being busy with school, I have not forgotten my dream. One day, after a long and exhausting report, I looked at my academic calendar and thought to myself: “I was tired of the life that is nothing but studying, it was definitely not the life I wanted. Why not just give myself an adventure NOW?” At the thought of that, I instantly applied for the Work and Travel program online, and what I did not know was my life has changed completely since the moment I clicked the “send” button.
After some applications and months of waiting, my friend and I finally received job offers! Our host company was a resort, located in a little island, Mackinac Island, situated at one of the five Great Lakes in Michigan. I was a little surprised that we were given jobs in an island which we have not even heard of as I thought that we would work at somewhere more well-known like the National Park. Besides, we need to spend two days transferring by three sorts of transportation to Mackinac Island. “Wow, what kind of far off place is it?” I assumed being on that little island would not be fun.
However, I was wrong.
The moment I saw Mackinac Island, my indefinite feelings vanished completely.
Have you ever seen the old American movies? That was exactly how Mackinac Island looked like. The Victorian era houses, traditional old downtown, historic forts on the hill, carriages, horses, bikes (Cars are prohibited on this island, even “ the garbage trucks” are the giant wood cart pulled by the horses). Moreover, there are lush forest and glories flowers everywhere. The lake is also a few minutes’ walk away. I have been to many countries but there is no place like Mackinac Island. It is a fairytale world which has escaped the evolution of time. It is a world that a girl who grew up in the city like me could not imagine.
Working as a clerk at the marketplace was challenging yet fun. Our responsibilities covered almost everything at the store from serving as a cashier, to taking orders, to storing the goods and to making Starbucks coffee. In addition, we would have to help out in the kitchen to make the pizzas and sandwiches during peak hours. I remember the first day of work was a terribly busy day. Just when I had set my foot in the store, I was immediately pushed into the kitchen to help make sandwiches. At that time, I had no clue what “BLT”, “Reuben” or “PB & J” were. All I could do was to attempt not to misunderstand the food ingredients’ names written on a little recipe and to try to create something looked like the food. It felt like a war that day, and that was the life I had for the rest of the working days. It might sound crazy but I honestly enjoyed it.
To me, work is more than just making money. Even though working as a clerk could be tough and tiring sometimes, I had many delightful moments. My colleagues and I were from countries with diverse cultural backgrounds but this difference did not alienate us. Working with them was a lot of fun. We always had our own ways to make the job more interesting; pretending to be a superstar shooting music video, having our own mini concert in the kitchen, creating our own special meal, sharing our lives, chatting about everything when there were no customers around and competing on bizarre things like who caught the most number of flies. One of the best things that happened to me was that I had a good supervisor. She taught me how to lead people with empathy, consideration and wisdom. She may be the best leader I have ever met.
Certainly, working in a foreign country is very different from working in your own country. The main factor would be the cultural difference and the thinking style. I had, unavoidably, been through some unpleasant experiences but I later realized that sometimes it was not anyone’s fault, because the cultural difference and the background diversity make everyone different. It was a lesson for me to learn how to get along with different people with respect and understanding, as well as an opportunity for me to learn how to assert myself when I needed to step forward for something I believed in.
If I have to say what made this summer unforgettable, I would have to say they are the moments that I spent with my friends. I was fortunate to meet a group of good friends who made my life more interesting and meaningful. Even though it has been three years since I left Mackinac Island, I fondly remember how it felt when we were sitting by the lake, listening to the waves gently wash, skipping stones as many times as we could, and talking about everything we did that day.
I remember the time when we played WWE and soccer on the lawn. It was fun to watch all my friends pin down one person on the ground just for a ball. I remember once we rode our bikes to explore the island only to end up having to ride our bikes down a hill. We probably rode through half of the island by the time we got back home because we got lost. I remember the morning when we saw the incredibly beautiful sun rise over the Huron Lake after a night of walking around the island and the faces of my friends when the sunlight shined upon them. I remember the night we lay under the Milky Way, trying to count the shooting stars as we shared our deepest and most hidden thoughts. How relieved I felt to be able to tell that to someone. And I remember the time we built our “stone castle” on the lakeside. We held each another’s hands around it and gave thanks for everything we had that summer.
Nevertheless, what I treasure most are those little things we did together. Before that summer, I had never known how great life would be when there are friends shared the life with you; as simple as knocking on the room door to invite friends to have dinner together, if there was anyone working late, we would leave some good dishes for the friend, having some chitchats before bedtime no matter how late we came home from work, spending almost whole night talking about everything before the day I leave the island so that we can stay together a little longer. These may be seen like a trivial of little things; however, those little things made me feel like I have the family there. The summer, the island and those friends aren’t just a memory, they will always be the place and people that I call family and home.
My friend once asked, “Sometimes, I wonder how many people’s lives will be changed after this summer?” I know mine did. I gained many things during this summer. Before this, there were times when I felt empty and unsatisfied even though life was enjoyable and it seems that I have everything. Mackinac Island taught me how to truly relax and appreciate life. Even though there are no high speed internet, no 24-hour stores, no shopping malls and most stores closed at 6, I gained more satisfaction and happiness than I ever did. I guess life is best lived when we learn to appreciate simple pleasures.
Because of this summer, I learned how to make life more interesting in various ways,
to take a moment to enjoy the beauty of nature,
to know the people by the heart,
and the most important thing is, to understand myself better.
It is interesting that sometimes you must immerse yourself in an unfamiliar world in order to truly understand your own.
I did, and I found the real me there.
It was the summer of 2010 in Mackinac Island, and I clearly remember the day we sat by the lake as usual. The waves gently washed the shore, the breeze brought the fresh scent of forest and water, the sunlight shined upon the face of my friends, and their hair blew across the cheeks in the wind. I looked at their faces and wondered, “ I am not sure what the eternal feels like, but in that moment, I think that is”