I have always prided myself on being okay with being uncomfortable. The best things have always come from getting out of my comfort zone. As I’ve grown, I have peeled back the layers of social constraints that held me back from being who I truly am. Part of my growth has been facing my fears and pushing back the nerves that claw at my stomach when I’m placed in an uncomfortable position.
I did just that when I walked through the glass doors of Chicago O’Hare airport. I was completely alone and had no idea what I was doing. But with wide eyes, I walked confidently up to a kiosk and went through the steps to print my ticket. But with one of the firsts steps, I could not understand what the kiosk was asking for me to do. I felt the nerves start to eat away all my resolve I had earlier. My cheeks burned with embarrassment for not knowing something that everyone else around me seemed to be understanding easily.
The first thought that popped into my mind was, “Kayla, you can’t even get your ticket, how are you supposed to travel to a whole different continent? You are going to fail.” The brief thought of failure jolted me out of my negative headspace and I then thought of the positives.
“Kayla, you are about to live your dream. Get it together. You got this. You’ve made it this far. You can’t quit now. I believe in you.”
In just a span of 10 minutes, I went through an internal crisis that could have been very detrimental to my journey. I was incredibly grateful that I was able to push through that fear of failing and keep going, because then I was able to think clearly and go through the steps at the kiosk without any help.
Going through TSA and waiting for my flight went without a hitch. It was smooth sailing from there. But I couldn’t say the same for when I got into England.
My plane landed a few minutes before its original arrival time. I was counting my blessings at this time, but then I saw the line I had to stand in to get into the country. The non-EU passport line was insane with people herded like cattle just for their passport to be stamped. I waited in that queue for 3 hours, alone, while all of these friends and family members chatted with one another around me. Just another moment where I felt my anxiety levels rise. But I kept my mind on the fact that in just a few moments I would be out of the line and stepping into a dream come true.
London was calling.
Just as I thought I made it, after getting my passport stamped, I was faced with a series of unfortunate events. The first was my luggage being taken by accident. I could not find my suitcase on the conveyor belt, even though the screen said my flight’s baggage should all be out to be picked up. I looked all around the area and even went to ask for help to find the suitcase. After a half an hour of searching, my suitcase had appeared suddenly. It was just sitting on the floor with no one around. We had been in that spot several times before, so it was obvious someone had mistaken their own luggage for mine and had brought it back before leaving.
Because of the delay from searching for my bag, my driver had left, thinking I was a no show. So, I had to wait another couple hours for another driver to pick me up.
I should have been freaking out, absolutely terrified that no one was coming for me. Yet I wasn’t. I was at peace. I was finally in my dream city and nothing could take away the joy I felt, not even the two hours of standing in the same area, abandoned.
When a driver finally came to pick me up, I was able to meet five sweet girls, one of them being my roommate. It was heartwarming that I was finally able to talk to people who were going through the same experiences.
But I was not in the clear yet. We were supposed to be dropped off at our dorm, but our driver had confused our stay with a hotel. We were stranded in an unknown place without any idea of who to call. Fortunately enough, the hotel concierge gave us a map with directions on where to go. We were a ten-minute walk from our dorm. It was not far, but with all the luggage we had, it felt like forever.
I was waiting for the nerves to start tearing away at my stomach then, but they weren’t making an appearance. A permanent smile was etched in my face as we navigated the streets of Kensington, London.
Once we made it to the dorm we were staying in, we were welcomed by a couple of Richmond University students. One was our RA, who gave us our assigned rooms. That was when we found out that our room (311) was not three flights of stairs like it would be in the US, but four. Here, they have a ground level, then the first floor, and so on. Fourth floor to us Americans shouldn’t have been a huge deal, except we had our luggage weighing us down and we had just walked a half a mile with that luggage.
The other Richmond student offered to help carry the luggage up, but I wasn’t having it. I had made it this far all by myself, I just had these stairs to tackle. Slowly but surely, I made my way up those narrow stairs with my 47-pound suitcase.
And there it was. My last struggle of making it to my new home for 6 weeks. A wave of accomplishment rolled through my body as I began to unpack my suitcase. I had done this all by myself.
I was a girl who had never traveled alone.
Never even been out of the country.
Only been on an airplane once, when I was six so don’t really remember the experience.
And I had done all of this on my own. I am beyond grateful for my ability to face the unknown head on, letting myself embrace the uncomfortableness of it all.
I have kept that energy throughout the first week of being in London, and I plan on sticking with it.