I set off for America at 5am on Tuesday August 30th, and I was largely terrified. I had never flown by myself before, and my mum’s insistence that she see me off, coupled with her nervous attitude towards flying, didn’t exactly fill me with the blind confidence needed for such things. But it was actually really simple. I waved goodbye to Mum and Diane, checked my bags in at the relevant desk, walked through security confident that I wasn’t who they were looking for, and found my gates easily enough through a combination of the bold announcements and the large screens littered everywhere. Simple. In fact, the first whiff of trouble came during my layover…
I was to fly from Birmingham International, across to Dublin – where I would check in through American customs – and then onward to Chicago, O’Hare; and you’ve guessed it, it was in Ireland that I found my first sizeable hurdle. In Dublin you pass through the American Consulate, which checks your passport and decides whether you ‘get in’. Imagine a bouncer outside your favourite club checking your provisional driver’s licence, but they’re doing it on your doorstep to save you a long journey home, should you not get on the VIP list.
“Address of where you’re staying, sir?”
I gave the address.
“Once more, sir?”
“Follow me, sir, you have been selected for extra screening.”
My heart sank as the lady led me to a room containing several other people, whilst she marched off with my passport to some unknown beyond. I sat calmly for around 15 minutes – something that can’t be said for a redheaded Irish woman, who took it upon herself to holler like she was a particularly bad audition for the X-Factor. I could almost see the American clerks behind their desks edging their hands towards the button that controlled the garish red ‘X’. Eventually it was my turn to be called forth, and I was nervous, I’ll admit. The lady simply said there was a discrepancy with the address I had provided. That I had said ‘South State’, when I should have said ‘State St’. I was fine. Get out of her sight. So I did, and I’m not ashamed to say I went straight towards a pint of Guinness. After all, I was in Ireland, and my nerves were shaking.
So that was that! I spoke with a lovely American couple at the bar for an hour, and proceeded to catch my flight. The journey was forgivingly dull, and the most eventful thing that happened during my eight hours in the air was when I dropped some rice and I thought I might enter the US with stains on my crotch. Thankfully, this wasn’t to be.
(I might add at this point that, during my leaving party on the weekend before, I had sung so loudly that I had lost my voice! I was devastated that I would be entering the great unknown without the ability to ask for help. This was where my great deciphering skills had to come into play. I was reading everything, and paying close attention to all announcements – which meant no headphones! If I could give you a top tip, it would be to ask. You may seem embarrassed, but people are there to help you, and some may even be in the same position as you! If, for some reason, you cannot ask, then hitch onto the airport Wi-Fi asap. You normally get the first 30minutes free, which is what you’ll need to search for directions – or possibly translating!)
I was lucky to have been assigned a buddy who could drive, and who drove me from the airport to my apartment. He even gave me a miniature tour of the campus, a quick trip for groceries, and then helped me move in. I cannot thank Mati enough for his continued help, even to this day. If I have a question or problem, he is the guy that offers a solution. I urge you to check if your new university offers a buddy scheme, and sign up well in advance.
So there you have it. The hard part is over. The only thing left to do is contact my family and friends to let them know I’ve arrived safe (although my constant Instagram updates would have been enough to vindicate me in any court); head to the International Meet and Greet; make friends; figure out the currency; become comfortable with my surroundings; get used to the time difference; understand the local customs; feed myself; and become ready for classes. Yeah, it seems like a lot, now I think about it, but it’s not. You just tackle each day as it comes, and solve every problem that arises, when it arises. The hard part is over, you’ve taken that first step (or 3’860 miles in my case, whatever), and the start of your once-in-a-lifetime experience begins here. Just try not to lose your luggage, your nerve, or more importantly, your voice.