37 Hours and 3 Subpar Meals




In typical Jaz fashion, I finished packing two hours before I was due to leave for the airport. In an attempt to beat jet-lag, I decided to stay up, but caved to my bed’s temptations after an hour. I woke up and got around. Again, trying to avoid jet-lag, I planned to stay awake for the car ride. And again, I caved.

I woke up as we pulled into the airport, said my goodbyes, checked my bag, went through security and made the dreaded mistake of stopping at Dunkin Donuts. My hash browns were a mix of rocks and raw potatoes, and my bagel was burnt rubber. The saving grace was the incredibly average cream cheese.

When I stepped off the plane from D.C. to Toronto I was greeted with tangible warnings of the language barrier I will face in China: signs in English and French. Envisioning myself navigating public transportation in China gave me the good kind of butterflies.

Although I went the long way through customs, it was still pretty easy. I filled out a paper, entered into a machine and then briefly spoke to an officer. The line for people of citizenship other than USA and Canada was much longer. I am interested in how the ease in which certain citizenship pass through customs changes as I travel to various countries.

I went through security again. They confiscated my toothpaste, so I did my best to avoid garlic and onions until reaching Hong Kong. I boarded my plane from Toronto to Vancouver and found a pen in my seat. Multiple times earlier I wished I had brought a pen, so finding one gave me comfort. I’ve wanted to study abroad for years and things really fell into place the last few months. I am in the best place for this opportunity, and this pen was another reminder of that.

From my two layovers, my impression of Canada is what everyone says: it’s like the U.S. but nicer. The shops and design of the Toronto and Vancouver airports were similar to U.S. airports, but more extravagant and expensive.

The scenery at a food court in Vancouver International Airport.

I thought a 12.5 hour flight would mean more leg room, but it really just means a complimentary pillow, blanket, headphones and meals (spoiler alert:  meals were small and bland.) This past semester I listed to a panel of people living with HIV/AIDS. Of the speakers recommended The Normal Heart to get a sense of the stigma people with HIV/AIDS faced in the 80s. Movies are too long for my attention span, but I have wanted to watch this one ever since that panel and was ecstatic it was available on my flight.

I landed in Hong Kong to find that the immigration line was longer, but just as easy as in Canada. After picking up my bag, I used public transportation to arrive at my hostel.

I have already been tripped up by little things (i.e. momentarily losing my credit cards and passport.) Preventing myself from panicking has been difficult, but my ability to adapt has already improved. My thought process has shifted from being upset about a problem to finding a solution. Furthermore, my solutions have become more creative and efficient. Navigating three international airports and two foreign public transportation systems has tremendously increased my confidence in navigating unfamiliar circumstances. Being comfortable with the uncomfortable is critical to successful professional and personal lives. Traveling to Hong Kong increased my excitement about the opportunity experiencing another culture provides to grow.