In which I finish exams and depart Ireland, become an overnight resident of the Philadelphia airport and eventually make it home after having my sanity preserved by the USO.
After four months in Ireland, having all sorts of academic and travel adventures, I was looking forward to going home. I knew I would miss the new friends I’d met in Ireland, the nice cool weather and the beautiful Irish landscape, but it was time for me to go back to my family, friends from home and pets. The trip back to the States turned out to be a little more interesting than I wanted, though. I finished my last exam (2.5 hours writing Japanese) on May 16, said goodbye to the people I wouldn’t see again before leaving and waited up until it was time to go catch the 4 AM bus to Dublin. At least I wasn’t alone for this part: Maddie and Sarah Eberle were taking the same bus with me. We went down to the bus stop in the misting rain and were pleasantly surprised to find that the bus was more or less on time. We dozed on the long trip to Dublin (me mainly because I was seriously motion-sick and trying not to puke) and eventually arrived at the Dublin airport where this trip began.
After saying goodbye to Maddie and Sarah, my next concern was customs. I’d never been through customs before, so I was a little worried about it. Fortunately, it turned out to be no big deal. I got through regular security just fine and went through to U.S. pre-clearance where I declared that I was carrying 8 bars of Guinness chocolate, 3 cans of Guinness, 2 packets of instant noodles, and 1 packet of Greek sauce mix. After being asked mostly the same questions about whether I had packed my suitcase myself or been given anything by strangers (answers: yes, no) the customs guy decided that my Irish souvenirs were no threat to the American people and let me go on my way. My flight from Dublin to Philadelphia was similarly uneventful, but Philadelphia was where everything would go haywire.
After getting off the plane in PA, I went to look for a departure listing to find out what gate I needed to go to. However, instead of finding a gate number, my flight was CANCELED. This was a new situation, so I tried to follow the friendly advice of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (DON’T PANIC) and went to find an information desk. I was directed to customer services for a flight change and got tickets for a flight to Pittsburgh, then to connect to St. Louis. The problem with connecting flights, though, is that if the first one is delayed, the second one isn’t much good. Which is exactly what happened. Back at customer service, Jewell the desk lady did her best to help me out and put me on standby for a flight to Charlotte. She seemed to think that it would work out, but it was not to be. When the time came, I was just about to get the last seat on the plane when some lady who had a seat booked and had just been late ran up and stole my hope of getting home. By this point I was utterly depressed and couldn’t help dropping into a nearby seat and starting to cry. The airport employees didn’t even look at me. I went back to Jewell who gave me the next possible flight…at 5 AM the next day.
My saving grace in this unfortunate situation was that my dad suggested I go look for the USO, the airport sanctuary for people in the military and their dependents. Luckily for me, I had my military ID with me. I trekked through the terminals to the USO and they let me have a bunk for the night. After trying to sleep in a chilly gate seating area, it felt like utter luxury to be in a real bed somewhere quiet, dark and safe. I got a few hours of rest and then headed out again, hoping I was finally going to get out of this weird Groundhog Day loop…but not quite. Yep, flight number 4: canceled. I got a new set of tickets for an 8 AM flight and dragged myself back to the USO. Since I was at least slightly more rested, I investigated the rest of the facilities offered there. I got a shower, some food and even a toothbrush and toothpaste. They had a nice living room type area, computers, and a movie room. It was absolutely wonderful. I was so glad to be able to go there, but also glad that someone thought of establishing something like that for military people. They do so much for their country, the least that country can do in return is make sure they are taken care of when stranded in airports.
To make this long story a little shorter, the fifth time was the charm and I made it to Charlotte, NC. I had to make a mad dash for the next gate and arrived almost hyperventilating, nearly passing out with relief that they hadn’t even started to board yet. I made it back to St. Louis at long last, about 19 hours after I was supposed to have done. But even though my return had been delayed, it just made the sight of my parents and boyfriend waiting there at the end to take me home even better. My suitcase made it back way before I did, but we retrieved it from the unclaimed luggage office (Office Guy: What does it look like? Me: Well, it has little African animals all over it… Office Guy: Oh yeah, it’s here.) and I finally got to go home.
The study abroad experience was great, it really was. But there was one thing I figured out while I was away. New experiences and places are amazing, but you can’t really just up and leave your life behind. There were a lot of times I wished my friends from home were with me to explore the Irish countryside. There were lots of animals around, but nothing replaces being able to cuddle my own cats. I missed my boyfriend even more than I thought I would. I made lots of new friends and had an awesome time, but it’s good to be home.