The Full Circle of Travel

As a student pursuing a dual-degree at the European Business School in Germany, I have the unique privilege of spending three semesters abroad. I began Part 1 of 3 on January 4th and I marked the end on May 28th. With each of these flights, something very similar – and very stressful – happened. I missed the last connection for the final leg of the journey. I want to reflect on both so that someone may find humor and perhaps advice from my experience.

I moved abroad on January 4, 2019. At a total of 13 hours for the trip, it was my longest to that point and the one for which I was most excited. It seemed to be pretty straightforward – Louisville to DC, 2-hour layover, DC to Munich, 1.5-hour layover, Munich to Frankfurt. And it was. For the first connection. However, on the trans-Atlantic flight, it began to snow in southern Germany. By the time we were set to land, snow and ice had layered on the runway. They had to scrape the runway before we could land. First obstacle. Then, once off, I had to go through Customs and Border Control before racing to my gate. But only, that gate was no longer my gate. I went to the service desk for updated information, and I was sent to the other side of the airport. I hurried off only to find that even though the new gate had a plane going to Frankfurt, it wasn’t “my plane.” Second obstacle. I raced to the service desk, only to be told that “my gate” was four down from the original, on the other side of the airport. I made an honest effort to make it back but came up short. First setback. The only thing to do in this situation is to go to the main service desk, explain what happened, make some fake tears fall down your face (reserve this for if they think it was your fault that you missed the connection), and negotiate to get a new ticket. This is exactly what I did to a resounding success. Except for one thing. No flights could accommodate me, so I was forced to take a 4-hour train from Munich to Frankfurt. Second setback. After two further weather delays of my trains, I arrived at my apartment in the small community of Oestrich-Winkel.

Now in my five months abroad, I came to really enjoy and appreciate Oestrich-Winkel, Germany, and Europe. However, I was excited about the chance to come home for the summer to see friends and family. As such, I booked a flight – Frankfurt to Amsterdam, 1.5-hour layover, Amsterdam to Detroit, 1.5-hour layover, Detroit to Louisville. As before, the first connection went as planned. I boarded my trans-Atlantic flight, got settled in for the long trip, and was anxious to be back on American ground (how naïve to think it would be easy). We were sitting on the runway in Amsterdam, waiting for clearance to take off, when a young man alerted the flight attendants that he was having chest pains and needed to get off the plane. So, as before, the notion that this would be a no-issue flight went out the window. We had to taxi back to the runway, get him off, find his checked bags in the luggage hold, refuel the aircraft, and cool down the brakes. Altogether, this process delayed our flight by about an hour. Unfortunately, this only left 30 minutes for me to alight, go through Customs, find my checked bag and recheck it, go back through security, and find my way to the correct gate. Needless to say, I missed my final plane by about 45 minutes. Thankfully, I had the experience needed to handle this. I marched to the main service desk, explained what happened, and negotiated for a new ticket as before. I landed back in Louisville at 9:30 pm, ready to start the summer!

Conclusion: delays can and probably will happen. Flights can and probably will be missed. Keep calm and put on a smile (or tears, depending on the situation) and ask for a new ticket. Before long, you’ll be on your way again, loaded with a wonderful story to tell your folks and a perfect subject for your travel blogs!

STUDY Abroad

Moving abroad and becoming a member of a new community and culture is very exciting. The “need” to do and see everything immediately can be overwhelming. Questions like “when should I travel,” “what other countries should I visit,” and “why shouldn’t I skip class to sightsee” can quickly take up home in one’s mind. Through all of these thoughts, one must take a moment to step back and reflect on the purpose of going abroad. Yes, of course, one should take in all of the sights and experience the culture, but one’s studies cannot get lost in the haze. If you want a perfect balance, my biggest piece of advice is this: learn the expectations of the class and the formatting of the examination, be very liberal with the time commitment expectations, and only then, plan your fun stuff.

I make this recommendation from personal experience. No, I am not a bad student. No, I didn’t skip class. But yes, I could have avoided a LOT of stress and days of no sleep if someone had told me this from the beginning. The biggest surprise to me was that my school doesn’t give midterms or homework. The course grade is determined by one’s performance on a final exam (and no, they weren’t multiple choice exams; they were all short response and essay format) or a presentation. Also, please realize that not all classes should be given the same time commitment. Some exams are easy, like my data analysis course, where we could bring a cheat sheet. Other are not. Take, for example, my investments course, which is the hardest course I’ve taken in college. I found the course very interesting, and I felt pretty confident that I could do well with only a few hours of studying the day before the exam. With all of that confidence, I took extended trips to nearby countries and surrounding cities whenever free. I never turned down dinner out with friends, a drink at the bar, or a long, nightly Netflix session. That was until about two weeks before the exam, when I learned from older students that only five students of about 100 passed the exam (before the professor was required to adjust the scores) the previous semester. Calm turned into panic, confidence into fear. Over the next 14 days and 8 exams, I drank approximately 45 cups of tea, 12 bottles of wine, ate 6 bags of Snickers bars, and pulled 3 all-nighters.

For the sake of your mind and body, please learn the expectations and learn them well. You’ll thank me later.