My exchange year has not started like I expected, and that is OK
I started my journey on Wednesday when I woke up at 5:20 to catch a 7:30 flight at the Greensboro airport. Already not getting great sleep, I flew out of bed, appropriately excited for the experience I was about to have. What I did not expect was the cold feet I ended up getting. I was very shaky that morning, saying goodbye to my parents and hopping on the plane to Charlotte, then Los Angeles for our Gateway Pre Departure Orientation.
Upon arrival to the LAX Airport, I was warmly greeted by Jerimiah, another YES student going to Indonesia. After struggling to find the right bus to our hotel and making sure we had not lost anything, I was having a blast. I had overcome my cold feet and was so ready for this adventure. Furthermore, I have never been past Colorado, so I thought California was like a foreign land, and was really in awe when we got on the bus to our hotel.
We were met with an old couple of AFS volunteers, Polly and Floyd, who led our Gateway Orientation. I reconnected with the Indonesia students and met our new friend Ben, who is an AFS student going to Indonesia as well. The orientation was with AFS China and AFS Japan, which made it interesting to see how the leaders catered to the different groups. We Indonesia students were fortunate to have an alum of YES Indonesia, Sarah Ketterhagen, who was awesome and reassured me through her knowledge that we are going to have a fantastic time.
The first thing I noticed once the orientation got rolling was how fortunate I am to be a YES student. Because of the PDO and other conference calls, us six YES students were veterans in the orientation department, and everything felt simple and repetitive. After muddling through the repetition, we got some rest and woke up at 6:00 for our 9:00 flight.
Our leaders gave us an Au Revoir with sparkling grape juice, we took the obligatory country photo with the flag, and were on our way. Up to this point, everything had gone as I expected. I was happy and comfortable with the way things were going, but little did I know our travel was just beginning.
All the Japan and Indonesia students were on the same flight to Tokyo, which was supposed to leave at 11:50 that morning. The plane was massive, and it felt amazing stepping in, knowing that I was leaving behind all that I was in America. We were in the plane for about an hour and it had not moved from the terminal. The pilots called on the speakers and said there was a printer problem, and we needed to deplane. Confused, I hopped off the plane, expecting to get back on in 30 minutes like I was told.
Long story short, our flight got continuously delayed for ten hours, until it was finally cancelled. We were already at our gate, so there was not much to do. As teenagers excited about a new start and then to have it ripped away from you was not an easy experience. We were grumpy, slap-happy, and everywhere in between. Personally, I felt conflicted. I was angry that we were not leaving as scheduled, but also felt incredibly fortunate that I was even there at all, with this amazing experience. Collectively, we handled the situation well, and in a small way it all paid off, because it gave me just enough time to eat my first In-N-Out burger later that night.
One day late, we got on the plane and headed off to Tokyo. We were very ready for this leg of the trip, so it was quite painless. Once we were in Tokyo, some of the realities began to settle and we saw how this is really happening. All was well and we eventually got on the flight from Tokyo to Jakarta. This flight was four hours shorter than the previous flight, but it felt twice as long. I got incredibly uncomfortable and was in and out of sleep the whole time, while wearing a very stylish face mask that an AFS volunteer had let me borrow.
We touched down in Jakarta at about midnight, and stumbled around until we found baggage claim. We got our bags and opened the door to our first feel of outside Jakarta. I was Absolutely Floored by the heat. I was not expecting the intense humidity at that time of night. Tired, hungry, and feeling a wealth of different emotions, we were warmly greeted by some young AFS volunteers who drove us to the Orientation camp where we promptly fell asleep, ready to experience the next new day.
All in all, I think this extended travel period, or the delayed fuse to joy, was a good lesson for my exchange year. Being that it was so different than my perception, I was emotionally slapped into realizing that my expectations are wrong, and I need to abolish them. I have no idea what this year will throw at me, and that’s the fun of being an exchange student. So if sitting in an airport terminal for twelve hours being moody is what it takes for me to understand this important concept of being an exceptional exchange student, then that is okay with me. I feel more prepared than ever to embrace the challenges of the upcoming year.
With my love of music, I want to share one of the songs that I listened to while writing this post. When drafting this post, my favorite song was Either Way by Wilco