I find myself at home among my family and friends; sitting in a room that had been left relatively unchanged since I closed the door back in September. My wall space is covered with high school plaques for outstanding achievement in foreign languages and math (which still baffles me) as well as an acceptance award for Phi Alpha Theta that takes pride and center among all others. But I lack a plaque (or a piece of parchment) for the greatest award of all. This trip changed me in more ways than one and have returned a changed person. Whereas traveling internationally was a (excuse my pun) foreign concept before; it has now become commonplace and not only do I now have the confidence required to get to the next level in life, but also new issues and problems to test me. If this trip was a course; the true final exam was my flight home. Physically, mentally and emotionally, it tested the skills I acquired throughout the semester and from start to finish was a memorable experience on its own.
The morning of the 20th proved to be a typical gray December day. I awoke from a long night of packing on the Dundee Law for what would be the final time. My room was as barren as when I had first walked in during Fresher’s Week which seemed almost like an eternity. Like traveling through space; time becomes relative when you’re living abroad. What occured between our moving in to our final days all blended in together in a giant mesh of a great “happening”. We not only went to class, we went to other countries; we made friends from towns and countries we had heard of and many more from places less familiar. We went to The Union Monday through Sunday and made sure to have the best times of our lives every time and to centuries old castles and museums that stored the cultural identity of a people we had lived with and among. But all of that was at an end and; slowly but surely, we filed off like rugby players who had just played the last game of the season. Our Scottish flatmate Lauren was the first to leave. It was hard saying goodbye to the person who had turned from a name on an envelope to our closest friend and the one we went to to explain all the peculiarities of another culture we barely understood. It was hard to see her leave, to all of us (especially Julie and I), we knew we would’nt see her next semester and she us. “Keep me updated on EVERYTHING!” she said giving both of us a good-bye hug. You couldn’t tell at that time but we were all fighting back tears; “You better visit us” we yelled before she walked out the front door to which she replied “Don’t worry I will”; I’m still holding her to that promise. Two days before I had dropped Julie off at the train station in Edinburgh where she would take the bus to the airport and her flight home. I refused to watch the bus pull away and pretended to trick myself into thinking it was just like any other day; but it wasn’t the same; I knew she wasn’t coming back to the flat. “This isn’t a ‘good-bye’, it’s an ‘until we meet again.’ ” she said to me before getting on the bus; I’d like to keep that as my final memory of our time together over there. When I got back later that day, Andy and Ashley wanted to go into town one last time to do some Christmas shopping; which was when it started to snow. “Unbelievable!” Ashley exclaimed as the three of us walked through the blanket of white slushy snow that covered every inch of ground. It was a strange feeling seeing snow in “The Sunniest City in Scotland”, especially after hearing of it snowing at home as early as October. It was on our walk back that Andy parted ways with us as he had a 930 pm flight out of Glasgow that evening. Out of the entire group of study abroad misfits I had befriended, Andy was the one whom I had known the longest. We first met him in the terminal at JFK back in September and his upbeat attitude and offbeat sense of humor helped me overcome my pre-flight jitters he was always a welcome part of all of our trips and parties. Now he was saying good-bye to us on a cold snowy day. It was a brief farewell but I think when you already have accepted the inevitable and know you will come across each other in the same country once more; a handshake and well wishes for a safe return is as good of a farewell as any. Ashley and Jon left the next morning; hoping to catch their early morning flights before the snow got worse. The night before, we bid them and emotional farewell. We were all upset but Sydney was more so. By spring she would be the loan Study Abroad student out of the group left and my heart broke when she and Katie parted ways. For the entire trip the two of them had been as close as Irn-Bru and HP sauce even though they had never met before. Their friendship best exemplified the study abroad experience to me; here were two people (one from Canada the other from North Carolina) who became fast friends and by the end of our 4 month sojourn would have appeared to have known each other for a lifetime to the casual observer. That was how we were and for our flaws and faults we will always remain close for the rest of our lives; even though geography keeps us apart.
It was almost 10 in the morning when Sydney walked into the kitchen to say farewell. I knew this was it but it was dreamlike, surreal. After this I would be the last person in the flat, the last one to close the door, the custodian of the final key to our adventure. We hugged one last time and all I could think of was when we first met at the Welcome booth at Edinburgh airport our first day. She was shy and somewhat tired from a summer of travelling around the UK with her family. We were both excited when it was discovered we’d be flatmates. By now the shy girl I had met at the airport had become the person that would always look out for everyone’s interests and I had become the complete opposite of the person that pensively waited for our bus to Dundee that chilly September day. After giving her boyfriend a hearty handshake and a fatherly “Take good care of her”, they walked out the door and I was left alone. Five minutes after they left; I became acquainted with a new sound, silence. At first it was not so bad; after all I was used to having an early morning breakfast before my classes and would spend nights of seclusion in my room working feverishly on an essay or studying for an exam; but this was different. Then I had the security to know that there was always someone in the room next door, now there was no one else but me and my inner thoughts. After finishing my lukewarm omelet and getting dressed, I did some last minute house cleaning. It was then I looked out to the southern view of the Law and Dundee and I did something that I held back the entire week; I cried. This had become more than a trip, it had become a second home. I loved the people here, they were friendly and helpful. The friends I made understood me and my odd music tastes; and today I was leaving that all behind, it was official; the adventure was over.
Two large rolling suitcases, one backpack and one laptop bag equated to almost four months of my life. Feverishly I checked and re-checked every corner of my room for things I might have left behind, subconsciously prolonging my stay for a few more minutes. By the 15th time I was ready to be on my way. Unlike everyone else, I had to carry all my bags without assistance, and it turned a 15 minute walk to the train-station into a super-human effort. The elevator was my final farwell “Ground Floor, Doors Opening” said the pre-recorded voice as I made an awkward exit into the courtyard of Belmont Flats. The snow didn’t make things easier, the cold was biting and went straight through 3 layers of clothing like a knife through butter. There wasnt much ceremony when I dropped off my keys; although I remembered to keep the Tesco member’s fob as a cheap momento. Twenty-five long minutes later I was at the train-station waiting for the 4:30 to Edinburgh after walking through the slippery and gray streets of Dundee. The train ride proved uneventful and it was unfortunate that it was too dark to see; I would have loved to see the countryside one last time. An hour later I was back in Edinburgh and saw that the winter festival was in full swing. Lights flickered in the dark as silohuettes of couples kissed in the dark and the cheerful screams of children echoed as they rode the whirligig and the two story slide; it was beautiful but my mind was on getting to the airbus on time. Next thing I knew I was at the airport getting on the shuttle bus that took me to the hotel.
“Are ya moovin house then?” the driver asked to which I retorted “No, I’m escaping”. It certainly felt like it. The weather had taken a turn for the worse and my luggage wasn’t making things any easier. Thankfully the hotel (The Quality Inn at Edinburgh Airport) was a short 10 minute drive from the main entrance. My flight was leaving at 9am the next day which prompted me to book a hotel for the previous night. for $100.00 I had a king size bed, a hot shower and a complimentary shuttle to and from the airport; I highly recommend booking this place if anyone plans to study overseas; its worth the money. When I shuffled into my room I had enough time to collect myself and give the ‘rents a call home “Hi it’s me, I’m at the hotel, yeah, yeah, no I should be good for tomorrow, the snow is coming down hard now but will be passing soon, see you in a few hours.” That was surreal; “I’ll see you in a few hours”, last time I saw my parents was walking through the checkpoint at JFK and we had been seperated by an ocean and several timezones; yet in 24 hours we would be re-united. Maybe adjusting to home life will be harder than I first thought. I took in my last episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks; fixed myself a cup of tea and tried to rest myself for a full day of traveling.
“Airports are finding it hard to keep with the weather as more and more flights are delayed and canceled.” was my morning alarm as the TV blared at 5:30 am. To my horror news was spreading of delays at airports around the UK, Europe and the US. The snow that had been blanketing Europe for the past week left many stranded in airports at Charles de Gaulle and Heathrow. The other day news of the Eurostar disaster was making headlines around the world. In order to get home I would require a flight from Edinburgh to Paris where I would switch flights for JFK. I prayed for the weather to hold off and made my way to the airport. It being four days to Christmas, holiday music was piping in through the PA system in the main airport lounge. everywhere were students and travelers awaiting their flight numbers to be called with an anticipation similar to that of people watching the “Mega-Millions” drawing. “What if it’s cancelled?”, “Where do I go?”, “Will I get home in time?” were all things running through my head as I hoped my flight would arrive on time. While waiting I struck up a conversation with an archaeology student at Edinburgh waiting for the same flight as me, but her accent was strange, “You shouldn’t worry too much, sounds like you don’t live far” I said; “Well I’m from Southampton (England) but live in Rhode Island” she responded. Not that I’m close minded or anything but I had always clearly defined an “American” based on accents and language, but by now that barrier had been smashed and I by this time had slowly seen myself as a British citizen despite my background and language. The magic sign then gave up its secrets “Gate 9″ and I was off to the next stage.
After checking in my bags I wandered over to customer service to pay the excess baggage fee. There I met more students from the US and Canada flying with KLM. Unlike me they were going through Amsterdam to the US but they had the unfortunate luck of having all of their flights canceled on account of the weather. “What are we supposed to do?”, “Keep calling” was customer service’s only response. I felt sorry for them and at the same time fortunate that I was good to go with my flight. I had gotten texts the day before from Ashley saying her flight was delayed 8 hours and Jon’s was canceled; both flying out of Edinburgh, so you could consider the 20 min delay of my flight a blessing.
While I was waiting for my flight; I talked to a scottish woman who was sitting next to me in the gate. She had just gotten engaged to her boyfriend who was living in New Jersey and was on her way to see him. I asked if she planned on moving to the U.S. eventually and she responded with a similar enthusiasm I had when I thought about similar prospects in the UK. She loved New York City, and found America exciting and new. It was as if I was looking at myself from 4 months ago; excited about living in a new country and ready to be emersed in another culture.
As the plane taxied off the runway I tried to get a parting shot of Scotland; much to the discomfort of the old people who had the middle and window seats. They had no clue at all what I’ve been through, where I’ve been, what I’ve seen. Several seconds later we were taking off and I saw faces, cars and buildings become smaller until they were unrecognizable forms.
We arrived in Paris a half hour off schedule; but I made the most of it by sneaking a peak at the Eiffel Tower from my window. Charles De Gaulle is one of the most confusing airports I had ever been in and is on par with JFK for being the most difficult to get around. Because we were late; our plane landed just outside the main terminal and a bus needed to come to pick us up. After that I had to find out where my gate was. the ticket said 72; but I was left walking around in circles; do the French enjoy confusing other people? Eventually I figured out that you have to take a monorail (yes a monorail) to the gate! Security didnt help make things easier either “parle’ vous Anglais?” was met with a stern “Non!” and the woman was asking me for something in French I had no clue what the word was. I pulled out my boarding pass in a fit of frustration and apparently that was what she needed. So much for 4 years of high school French!
The last leg of my journey went off without a hitch, although I have to say it was filled with its own peculiarities. Behind me sat a Brit with his two children on their way to visit family in New York and the habit of the Air France attendant giving the same speach in French, English and Spanish really hit home how big the world really is and how diverse the human race is.
My journey culminated with viewing the shining lights of New York City; the same ones I saw as we took off for Europe all those months ago. When we landed I was eager to jump off the plane and finally see my parents. Although I considered my time in the UK the best of my life; it felt good to walk through the US Citizen passport check at security and look at all the international arrivals across the hall “Where are you from?” said the security guard “Here, I mean New York” I said awkwardly; coming out of jetlag and travelling for a full 24 hours hadn’t helped my logic none “Where’ve you come from?”, “Dundee, Scotland”, “Study Abroad?”, “You bet”, “Welcome Back”. I waited expectantly for my bags and slowly got used to hearing american accents again. 15 minutes later I was good to go and walked through the meet and greet gate. At first I noticed the sea of people waiting to be reunited with their friends and family and then saw my mom race across the aisle and give me one of the tightest hugs I had ever recieved with my dad in hot pursuit. “Welcome home son” he said to me, “It’s good to be home pa, but you don’t know where I’ve been”.
Our other friend Katie finally left for the US the day after me; and as far as I’m aware is safe with her family in North Carolina. Jen’s family came to visit her around the time I left and they celebrated a memorable Christmas in Scotland and Ireland. Laura was the last of us to leave; her Ukranian flatmate invited her to spend Christmas with her family and she finally came home around January 9 or 10. Julie, Andy, Ashley and Jon all arrived home in one piece; delayed or not. Sydney was still in London’s Heathrow for several days before she finally made it back to Vancouver. We all plan to reunite either over the summer or within the year.