“All aboard!” shouted the uniformed man, holding the clipboard in front of the open bus door.
The single-file, serpentine line, in which I stood, seemed to have enough passengers to fill those seats without any late arrivals. Mothers clutched grocery bags of snacks while trying to quiet screaming babies. Others gripped the small fist of a toddler who pulled with all his might to free himself from her vice-like grasp. Somehow, the old man managed to read his newspaper, standing in line, apparently oblivious to the racket. Several adolescent boys twirled, bobbed and weaved in time to the music emitted from the transistor radio, held by a tall, blond youth. At the sound of the bus driver’s command, all but the adolescents straightened up and slowly moved ahead, clutching tickets to be punched. The boys just danced their way forward.
I’d chosen the route with the least stops, but still, it was a long trip. When the bus driver looped his way around Seattle, I thought we’d miss that bus station. I was mistaken; he was just choosing an exit off the loop, closer to his destination. Oh, well, if I watched the time carefully, I could find some place to have a quick sandwich, use the restroom facilities and be back on the bus before his final call.
Following the break, the bus pulled onto I-5, heading north, and my excitement grew. This was unchartered territory for me; I’d never been farther north than Seattle. Like a kid on vacation, I glued my face to the large window, not wanting to miss anything. The Greyhound had changed drivers; this one a wannabe tour guide. Every mile of the road, he kept up a running description of the area, complete with historical details, where appropriate. It thrilled me to have such an unexpected treasure in the man at the wheel. Of course, I had no idea if he had been making up all that stuff or not; it didn’t really matter, did it? He kept us all entertained.
“Fifteen minutes to the border, Ladies and Gentlemen. Please see that you have all identification, and any documentation you need to enter Canada, ready to present to Immigration. Any items you are carrying across this border that are not a part of your personal effects, and any on the declaration list posted at Customs, will need paperwork filled out before we can depart. You may leave your possessions in your seat or overhead, during this border check. Please, don’t get away from our group. Read the signs; stand in the right line.” The bus driver’s sing-song voice demonstrated that this was a well-rehearsed message, delivered countless times over many years.
His formal instructions ratcheted up my heart rate a bit; I dug through my daypack, pulling out the billfold that held my US Drivers license and birth certificate. I remembered that the information packet from the school had advised me to carry my official acceptance letter from the Registrar with me, just in case the officials wanted proof of my reason to come to Canada.
Making my way through the line, at last, I stood before the Immigration Officer. My mouth was so dry, I couldn’t swallow. Good grief, I thought, he’s gonna think I’m trying to smuggle something in. Relax, Sojourner! Deep breaths. In. Out. Look him in the eye when you speak. You’re not doing anything illegal; stop looking like you are!
“So, young lady, you’re going to graduate classes in Christian Studies in Vancouver, eh?” The man didn’t look up from my official letter until I spoke.
“Yes Sir, I am.” I kept smiling but said no more.
I’d been advised by my friends who’d made this trip…and who knew just how verbose I can be under the most relaxed of situations and much worse when nervous…to only speak when spoken to. Let him ask the questions. I reminded myself not to offer any information he doesn’t ask for. Just answer his questions as briefly as possible. Let him ask for more information, if he wants it.
“Okay. I see you’ve got your official acceptance letter here. May I see your financial statement, please?”
“Sir?” What could he possibly mean?
“Your financial statement. That can be your checkbook or a student scholarship agreement or travelers checks. Something that proves to me that you have the money you need to go to school in Canada.”
I smiled with relief. “Oh, I see what you mean. I have always worked my way through school, Sir. I plan to work while I go to school.”
“Okay, then, show me your work permit.”
“Permit, Sir? I need a permit to work in Canada?” My smile had left me, my brows furrowed as deep as an irrigation ditch in a Montana August.
“You sure do. So, you don’t have any permit then. How about your checkbook. Do you have enough money in there to get you through the year?”
“I could show you my checkbook, Sir, but I can tell you right now that there’s exactly $121 in the balance. It’s enough for my first month’s Board and Room and a couple of textbooks. I already paid the first fees to the school. I’m sure they’ll help me work out the rest somehow. No one said it would be a problem and no one asked me about finances. I didn’t know; I’m really sorry. This is my first time out of the country, but I reckon that’s obvious to you, huh?” I guess the struggle this dear man went through ended in my favor. Before I knew it, he handed me back my papers and license.
“Well, you’re supposed to have all of that taken care of before you cross the border, but it looks to me like it was an innocent mistake. Go on now. Get back on that bus. If the school can’t figure out a way to help you, just come back. Promise me you won’t stay in Canada any longer than you have the funds to live there, okay? I don’t want you breaking any laws to get money you’re not entitled to earn.”
Returning my things to my daypack, I assured the immigration officer that he could trust my promise. I wouldn’t get a job. God’d help me; I was sure He would. God must have a plan, right?
Indeed, God had more than one plan! It was an incredible year of learning to live by faith, as well as to study like crazy. The lady on the phone had been right; it wasn’t a place for students not serious about learning and working hard. One crisis after another challenged me to the max, but God proved Himself faithful. What a year of miracles I had just begun!
****Study in Canada: Confirmation and Surprises …Next Post