“Ladies and gentlemen, we will be taking off from Harare International Airport soon”.
Thirty minutes later… “Ladies and gentlemen, we have now exited Zimbabwean airspace”.
Four hours later… “Welcome to Addis Ababa Bole Airport!”
Sixteen hours later… “Welcome to Washington Dulles Airport”.
There I was, after a 20 hour long flight, standing at terminal C1 inside the ginormous Washington Dulles Airport (at least by my standards). The time was 9.07am but my phone still read 2.07pm, Dublin local time, and the weather made no sense. It was hot and humid, and there was not as much light as I had expected!
There were Americans everywhere! My ears feasted upon their unusually loud and fast-paced voices. It took me a while to get used to it, having to always say “pardon” to have them speak a little slower. At every turn, I resisted the cliché urge to gaze at every ‘new’ thing I saw (which was basically everything). It was my first time in America but I definitely did not want my wonderment to be a dead giveaway. I strolled sedately towards terminal C3 to wait for my connecting flight and started tinkering with my phone. I updated the time zone, checked in on Facebook and updated my Instagram. Within a few minutes, I had ran out of things to do and proceeded to just stare at the cloudy blue sky through the terminal window.
“Reality check! You are now 8000 miles away from home. You’re on your own, buddy!” I was in some kind of emotional dilemma, excitement coursing through one vein and cold anxiety down the other. At this point and time, I had no idea what The Land of Opportunity had in store for me.
A few minutes later, my self-imposed conundrum was interrupted when a young Ethiopian lady walked into the waiting area and sat down. It took my adrenaline-soaked mind a while to realize that we were actually waiting to board the same plane and going to the same state, to meet the same orientation interns who would take us to the same university. I went on to realize that we had been on the same sixteen-hour flight from Ethiopia.
For the next three hours, Beth and I chatted, exchanged stories, joked, laughed and took selfies. We talked about everything from our college acceptances to packing for the journey. As I got on my last flight to Connecticut, I was calm and of pure emotion, because I had learned that the informal rules that govern social interactions and existence are also just the same in this hemisphere. I had expected the social scene to be somewhat tense. I thought everyone would be in a hurry and no one would have time to even glance at the next person. To my surprise, people were very nice and communicative. That TV Series inspired cliché of Americans hurriedly bustling to work every morning carrying a cup of coffee vanished. I guess not all Americans do that, maybe it’s just a New York thing.
Two hours later, Beth and I were off the plane. We helped each other with our luggage and managed to find our way out of Hartford Airport. After a few panicked moments, we found the orientation interns, or rather they found us, and we met up with a few other international students who had recently arrived. We loaded up our luggage into the van and set off.
As the van glided through Hartford traffic, I finally felt the North American breeze drift through my hair and that infamous ‘American Oxygen’ fill my lungs (thank you Rihanna!). All the excitement I had slowly turned into happiness as our orientation intern, Miranda drove us closer to Middletown and at the same time quizzed us (the frosh) about every detail of our life prior to college. I could almost hear Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” playing in my head. The moment was perfect and life couldn’t get any better.
A few minutes later it did get better as we pulled into Wyllys Avenue. We parked right outside the beautiful Usdan University Center, a building I had only seen in the brochures and admission packets the university had sent me. You-sdan? Uhh-sdan? Who cares! Finally, after 18 months of preparation, exams, tests and applications, here I was, at Wesleyan University! 26 hours after I left home on a plane, I was now home! Ironic right? The way we misuse the phrase ‘leaving home’. How I wish mum could have been there, to see this beautiful campus, to see these amazing people, to appreciate the importance of Air Conditioning, to be annoyed by the humidity, and of course to see my home.
The next few days of International Student Orientation were phenomenal; the pizza, the nerf gun battles, the Wesleyan Fight Song and the surprisingly hilarious and free spirited Michael Roth (Wesleyan University President), just to mention a few. I have never been to such a place where I feel (and I am) so very different from everyone else yet I fully belong. As my life unravels before me, I know I will have the right friends, peers, deans and professors to help me make sense of it all.