The registration hall was packed with students when I arrived. This is the first time I had ever seen this many young people in the same room all at once. I even heard different languages spoken as I waited in line.
“Hello there. Which program are you in?” A middle-aged man greeted me in English when I finally reached the registration desk. He was overweight and balding, but his smile was warm and pleasant.
“Biomedical engineering.” I memorized my registration paper.
“And what’s your name, young man?” He looked at me.
“Mark Winfield.” I showed him my student card.
“What’s your last name, is it Mark or Winfield?”
“It’s Winfield, sir.” I pointed at my last name on the student card.
“I see. Since your last name starts the letter W, I’m afraid you’ll have to go to the next desk.” He pointed at the piece of paper hanging in front of his desk. “This desk is for students whose last name begins with letters M to R. The next desk is for people with last names beginning with the letters S to Z. You’ll have to register with my colleague here.” He pointed to the woman on his left.
“Ok. Thank you, sir.” I sighed when I saw the long lines running all the way to the entrance of the room.
“Mark, hold on a sec, let me talk to my colleague quickly before you line up again.” He tapped the woman next to him on the shoulder. “Hey, Priya. Could you help Mark here when you have a minute? He got in my line by mistake. It’d be a shame for him to line up again.”
“Sure. I can help him in a moment. Let me just finish with this student first.” The woman spoke with a strange accent. Her skin was dark-brown and her hair pitch-black, quite a bit darker than the people I’m used to seeing where I come from. So I had a hard time figuring out her age.
“Thanks, Priya.” The guy made some space for me next to his desk. “You can wait here. It won’t be long.”
“Have a lovely day, Lori. I wish you all the best with your studies here!” Priya handed a large canvas bag to the girl she was helping.
“Thank you. Have a lovely day!” The girl bowed courteously and walked off with a big smile on her face. She looked so familiar, but I couldn’t remember where I had seen her before.
“What’s your name, young man?” Priya waved one hand in front of me to get my attention. “She’s a pretty lady, isn’t she?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, I got distracted for a second.” I felt my face turn red. “My name is Mark Winfield and I’m in Bioengineering.”
“A handsome young man like you will certainly have no trouble dating the girl you like.” She leaned towards me and winked. “Her name is Lori, by the way, and she’s also in Bioengineering.”
“Ma’am, I’m sorry, but I think you got the wrong idea.” I was so nervous that I spoke very quickly. “My student number is right here.” I showed her my student card.
“That’s fine. I just need your last and first name.” Priya found my name on her thin stack of paper and crossed it off. “A word of advice from granny, University is the perfect time to find your soul mate. Both of my sons met their wives in University, and now I have five grandchildren.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” I honestly didn’t know what else to say. Her words struck something in me that set my mind on fire. Romance and marriage? Is that what the people in this society look for when they go to University? That’s not what I’ve been taught at all. Marriage is a duty that I’ll have to fulfill to my organization. And I’ll have absolutely no say in it.
“I can see that you’re an international student. Do you mind me asking where you’re from?”
“Umm, I’m from…the continent…west of here.” I was so nervous that my mind drew a blank.
“Hahaha!” Priya laughed. “The whole world is west of here. Which continent do you mean? North America or Europe?”
“Ah, I remember now.” The word America jolted my memory. “My parents live in America with my siblings.”
“I see. I would’ve guessed Germany from your last name.”
“Ah, yes, my last name is actually German. All my grandparents are from Germany. My ancestors spelled it as Winfeld, without the “i”. But they changed it to Winfield to sound more American in my parents’ generation.” My palms were sweating from nervousness.
“I see. You’re an American who has an interest in your family history. That’s a rare quality to find in young people these days.” She looked at me with interest.
“Um, thank you.” She’s absolutely right. Where I come from will always be an important part of me. No matter how many times the Lindons organization erases my memory, a remnant of it will always stay with me. One day, I will find my real parents and reunite with them. There’s no way they would’ve abandoned me…
“Are you alright?” Priya’s voice interrupted my thoughts.
“Sorry, I’m just a little nervous.”
“Oh, I completely understand. Being in a new country must be daunting. But don’t worry, you’ll be well taken care of here.” Priya took out a large canvas bag from the box behind her table. “This is your welcome package. It’s got a set of summer uniform, handbooks which you should read, maps, and some goodies to get you started on University life. Oh, and don’t forget this.” She placed a large plastic yellow shell in my empty hand.
“What’s this?” I didn’t know what to make of it.
“It’s a hard hat.”
“I tapped it a few times so that it made a sound. “A hat that’s hard. Haha! Clever!” The people in this society are very practical with their language.
“It’s what professional engineers wear.” She laughed at me again. “It protects people on their job, especially civil engineers. It’s a souvenir for all our Engineering students.”
“Cool!” I placed it on my head and walked off with a big smile. My acting was impressive. I shall brag to Advisor 223 about how I made up the origin of my name.