There is this sense of bad luck that comes whenever I land in a new destination. That sounds awful. Maybe I should correct – it virtually always ends up being on just the first day, before everything becomes smooth sailing. I will proceed to give three examples, and draw upon what the takeaway is from all of the experiences.
Upon landing at the airport in Shanghai, China, I took a taxi to the dorms. Around 20 minutes into the ride, the taxi driver confesses that he does not know where the dormitory of Shanghai Niuyue Daxue is. At this point, I begin to direct him in some broken Mandarin as best I could. Out of frustration, he begins to yell and orders me to leave his cab. (I quickly learn that many Chinese cab drivers are not nice.) I balance three bags in my hands and begin to walk the streets of Shanghai (hopefully that’s where I was). Within an hour of speaking to locals in a language I had not spoken for five years, I finally make it to our dormitory. Note to NYU Shanghai: please get some signs near the Jinqiao dorms.
In that time, I had learned more than I had learned through the entire orientation at NYU Shanghai. I had picked up some notion of Shanghainese by speaking with locals for almost a full hour. I had understood which restaurants and shops are in the area, and drew an internal map of the few streets around the dorms. Without this experience, I would not picked up the culture of Shanghai so quickly.
Later on in the semester, we decide to take a trip during break to Beijing. After an hour or so of driving up a mountain near the Great Wall, we hear some confusion happening. Two boys in our group come back to us to let us know that we were too many for their AirBnB. For quite a while, we begin to dispute, stating that we had notified them of how many guests we had, and they should have been prepared. Given the late hour of night, they decide to let us finally stay, opening up some extra rooms in a home nearby and pushing three of us to a room. When I woke up in the morning, I took a shower with an open window that faced the Great Wall – just a walking distance away. From almost being stranded on the top of a mountain at midnight to staying in a neighboring mansion, my perception of the impoliteness of many elderly Chinese quickly shifted.
And at last, upon actually traveling to NYU Tel Aviv, my flight becomes delayed around 13 hours before it is cancelled at 2AM. I go back to Orange County, and spend the night at my home for a few hours before I drive back to Los Angeles the next morning and hop on the first flight to New York. From New York, I am sure I could get a flight to Tel Aviv quickly – and I do! I make it to Tel Aviv only a day and a half later. When I go to baggage claim, they say that my bags, which were on my first flight and were expected to go on the next flight out, would actually come on the next scheduled flight from El Al – in two days. Okay, no problem. El Al gives me some basic necessities for two days, and when the time comes, I call the airline. “Your bags have been lost.” Three days later of washing the same clothes over and over again, day and night, it takes about four days before my bags have been found and arrive.
This, to me, is the thrill of going abroad. We are thrown into unfamiliar situations, with different systems, where we often experience the unexpected. It is experiences like these that help us grow. I felt so grateful during those few days, despite not having any belongings. I had myself! I had made it to a city that I was so fascinated by, and I was feeling alive in the feeling of being utterly lost!