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A how not to guide for study abroad

| Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What comes to mind when thinking of study abroad? Best experience of your life? Trying new things and learning about different cultures? Unforgettable?

For my part, I really should have been more prepared to travel to London this semester. My mother warned me several times that leaving packing until the last moment was certainly not the way to start the year, and would result in mislaid items and anxious FaceTime calls while abroad, telling her about all the things that would have been sensible to bring. Did I listen to her? Of course not.

Wednesday the 17th arrives. I have two bags sort of packed. I’ve double checked my purse, made sure I have my passport, every document that I would need to travel to the United Kingdom. I even have a traveler’s document to explain why I am in the United Kingdom, although I technically don’t need it as a member of the EU and British citizen. I then decide to check United’s checked baggage charges.

“ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS??!?” My mind is completely blown. I had decided to pay the $50 charge I had assumed United charged for a second bag, but $100 was just a little too much to pay for some extra shoes and some toiletries. I raced up the stairs to speak to my mother, who completely agreed, and I had to reshuffle everything I thought I would need into one checked bag. Finished with an hour to go. I was feeling a little flustered, but still thought I had proved my mother wrong. We ate toast and marmalade, split a ginger ale, had a last cup of tea before I went to the land of tea drinkers, then got in the taxi.

We arrived at Penn Station with 45 minutes to spare (blame my anxiety of travel, and my mother overestimating the traffic we would encounter in New York around 1:00 on a Wednesday). My father arrived at the train station at approximately 1:40 for a 1:55 train. We bought our train tickets (I proudly used my travel credit card for the first time), and then I decided to re-double check my handbag to make sure I had everything.

My stomach dropped. When I opened my bag to put my ticket in, I noticed that a white envelope that I was pretty sure I had put in earlier that day was no longer there. I frantically pulled everything out and placed it into my mother’s hands. I went through my carry-on, I almost opened my checked luggage, although I had enough common sense to think I hadn’t actually put it in there. Everything inside me shut down. The document, that I didn’t actually need, as I was UK citizen, going back to the UK, who didn’t need to explain why she was returning home, became my worst nightmare. The Notre Dame International Office could not have possibly given me a document that I actually didn’t need. I actually started to cry in the middle of Penn Station, while my unsympathetic British parents stood on either side of me, bemoaning the fact that I was an emotional 20-year-old. They simply repeated over and over again, “no Kitty, you cannot be deported from the country that you are a citizen of. Where on Earth would they send you back to?”

Logic wasn’t getting through to me, and so they just let me try to pull myself back together. I eventually stopped the unfortunate duck face that I form when I cry, and returned to a slightly breathy calmer state, although it certainly could have devolved into ridiculous crying at any moment. I can’t defend it. Maybe I was tired, maybe I was frustrated. I think my addled brain thought I was a stateless person who belonged nowhere. Whatever it was, I think my parents were regretting their decision to let me study abroad. I got on the train, boarded my flight, arrived in England at an unfortunately early time and then waited an hour for my friends to go through customs. Because I of course when straight through, as a UK citizen…

The lesson from all of this? Mother knows best.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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