Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Abroad Chronicles, II: ARRIVAL

Armed with a suitcase full of sweaters, my denim pony shirt and a sense of possibility, I said my farewells to my family on Friday, September 26 and hopped on the smallest plane in the world to Philadelphia. This part of my journey was unremarkable, in consideration of the rest of it, and I spent it listening to music and reading and trying my best not to have any physical contact with the man beside me. Every single flight I have taken in the last year and a half has been delayed, so I spent the majority of this flight also stressing about missing my flight to Manchester.

No worries, though, as I sprinted through the airport (briskly walked) and found my gate only to receive a message from my mom that my flight had been delayed. Five minutes later, I boarded the plane, sat beside an Englishman and waited for the flight to begin, which it did, forty-five minutes and a delayed plane from Chicago later. But off we were to Manchester and I settled in my seat with my personal television comfortably.

Unfortunately for those around me, their televisions didn't work/the headphone jack was broken: how lucky I was, as it was impossible to sleep sandwiched between two strangers, one of whom is trying her hardest to sleep on her side in the airplane seat. Though this journey was mostly uncomfortable and sleepless, it proved to be the easiest part of my journey to Keele University, located in a little city in Staffordshire, England.

I got off the plane around nine in the morning local time and was probably the most confused I have ever been. I was in England, but was it really England? BTW, landing in an airport where absolutely no one is there waiting for you is one of the worst feelings in the world, but through my plane ride, had managed to transcend human emotion and was numb to any feeling but annoyance as I waited in the Longest Line Ever to get through customs. I approached the man at the customs desk and he asked me what I was trying to do in England, I managed to somehow give the correct answer and got through security. The rest of this is admittedly boring: finding my bag and navigating my way to the train station via the signs in the airport.

When I finally managed to find my way to the train station (passing a few of my friends from my flight on the way), the station I needed (Stoke-on-Trent) was mysteriously absent from the board of incoming/outgoing trains. I must've looked like a very confused sea anemone, staring gaping at this list of trains, wearing a denim shirt with horses on it, accompanied by an enormous suitcase, so a woman asked me if I was alright, apparently some sort of common greeting in England, but anyway, I said no, and she directed me to where I needed to go (Manchester Piccadilly via a random train).

A girl opposite me on this train was crying her eyes out. Internally, I praised myself for my lack of emotion like some sort of sociopath, and marveled at the sights of England around me: the small houses, the trees, the gray sky. Just like I'd imagined and also worse, somehow. Eventually, I found my way to the Stoke-on-Trent train and settled in for the long journey, during which I read, stared outside and fell asleep, but still managed to get off at the correct station.

Stepping out of that station and into the light of Stoke-on-Trent station was perhaps one of the strangest feelings I'd ever experienced. I had no idea which bus to take to my university nor where the correct bus stop was and spent around twenty minutes walking up and down the street, in and out of the station, until finally I noticed a group of people around my age with suitcases similar to mine across the street, at a bus stop I hadn't yet noticed.

After a long, confusing bus ride, I reached my destination. I wandered around the campus, lost, for twenty minutes, trying to figure out where I lived and where to find my keys. Eventually, I found the building where enrollment was taking place and a kind soul offered to pull my suitcase up a hill, obviously noting the confusion on my face just as the woman from the train station (which, at this moment in the story, felt like five years ago) had. After enrolling and getting my keys, I was faced with the task of navigating my way around the campus to my dorm.

Every direction I received made no sense to me and I boarded the first bus I saw, asking the bus driver if he could take me to Keele Village/Hawthorns Hall, where I live, but he seemed confused but took me on the bus anyway. It was just me and him on this bus and he talked the entire time about dropping me off somewhere and that the next bus driver would know where to take me, because apparently Keele Village was not apart of his daily route.

And so there I was: dropped on the side of the road in the very middle of the English countryside without any way to contact anyone. I waited for what felt like thirty-nine years for the next bus to come, and thankfully it did and once again, the bus driver had no idea where he was going but insisted he could find it. Mind you, I very rarely have ever taken a public bus in my day, lucky enough to be able to walk where I need at BGSU and have access to a car at home. The bus driver drove past my dorm and back onto campus, where he stopped outside a group of students who were helping the first years move in. I lugged my suitcase off the bus and onto the side of the road and thankfully, a girl offered to drive me to my building.

Then, of course, I dragged my suitcase up three floors and found my room and walked inside, unpacked my "bedding pack" which turned out to basically  be three pieces of paper, a regular sized pillow and a bed-sized pillow and as soon as I had the fitted sheet over my mattress, I burst into tears, finally releasing whatever had built up inside of me, from my wandering around the airport, train station and campus.

Also, I was running on two hours of sleep, so it was really only inevitable that I slept twelve hours that night. The experience of getting here was one of the most stressful of my life, but I suppose it taught me, importantly, the ability to rely on myself and stay normal during stressful experiences, and though the hair loss wasn't really worth it, the knowledge and confidence I have now, I suppose, certainly is.


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