I distinctly remember my first international trip. This is, perhaps, because it was only two years ago. However, those first few days will be imprinted on my memory, probably forever.
I’m pretty sure that my shouts of excitement upon being accepted as a Caux intern shook my house; I studied International Relations at Wellesley, yet had never actually done anything international (though any Californian who goes to college in Massachusetts might tell you that the east coast is basically a different world). This was my chance. This was it. It was the only internship that I’d applied to the Spring semester of my Junior year, and I still think it’s pretty cosmic that it worked out. The rest of that semester passed in a blaze of excitement and sunshine. As my start date loomed nearer, however, I began to develop nerves. I didn’t want to leave California for July and August! Why would I leave my family, my job lifeguarding, my friends who I only saw during the summers, to pursue some internship that sounded less and less legitimate the more I tried to research it? Seven weeks out of the country, and no promise that I’d have a friend?
My nerves had reached an all-time high the night before I was due to leave. What if I got lost? What if there wasn’t actually an internship waiting? What if I lost my bag?? What if it was some weird cult trying to abduct me?? I met a friend of a friend for a glass of wine my last night in California, and his insistence upon the glory of travel, the amazing sights I had in store, the wonders of Switzerland, Italy, and London quelled my anxiety. I took this as a good omen, and awoke the morning of my flight excited, exhilarated. I arrived at LAX hours early. The line for security did take an hour, but the good signs continued, as I made friends in line with two middle-aged women, one of which, it turns out, was actually an actress. Only in LA, I thought.
Everything was going to well; I got through security without being searched or interrogated, and arrived at my gate. The time for my flight came and went; apparently, the plane bound for Atlanta wasn’t leaving, after all. I was worried but not panicked, and Delta sent me to AirFrance. I exited security, walked all the way across LAX, and arrived at AirFrance, only to be told that they had just closed the door, and didn’t Delta know that you had to be on board at least an hour early for an international flight?
They sent me back to Delta. After an hour of talking to an idiotic customer service representative, and repeatedly bursting into tears, I came across a woman who finally got me on a flight to Geneva, via Paris. At this point, it was 4 in the afternoon. I’d been at LAX since 9 am, had been awake since 5, and my flight wasn’t due to leave until midnight. Midnight came and went, and there was no plane. Finally, at 1.30, never feeling so exhausted in my life, I boarded my flight to Atlanta. Since my first flight was late, every subsequent flight was late, and I ended up spending nearly three days and two nights in airports and on planes. I left on a Friday and was supposed to spend Saturday night in Geneva, arriving in Caux on Sunday. Instead, I barely made it to Caux by Sunday afternoon. My bag was lost, of course. I missed every single flight that had been booked, and was thankful that I’d remembered to pack a spare dress, pajamas and deodorant in my carry-on.
When I finally arrived in Switzerland, I thought I surely must be delirious from exhaustion. The train that took me from Geneva to Montreux, and then on to Caux, passed the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Alps reared almost directly from the lake, covered in terraced, mountain vineyards. Colors that I did not know occurred in nature surrounded me, the pure blue of the sky, the amazing teal of the lake, the bright green and purple of the Alps. And the buildings, the architecture — I felt like I was in Disneyland, but suddenly, I knew that I was seeing what all our architecture attempts to re-create, for these Swiss buildings had an air of authenticity that I hadn’t even noticed was missing in California. Flags of different countries waved out of windows and on balconies, showing support for the teams of the world cup.
The final train ride to Caux was probably the most exhilarating, and terrifying, of all. The tiny train, multi-colored and open-windowed, like one of those kiddy rollercoasters at Disneyland, snaked its way up the mountain, stopping at tiny villages, crossing wooded waterfalls, revealing the cow-dotted landscape that one sees on advertisements for cheese, milk, chocolate. In my exhaustion and jetlag, I thought the altitude would make me sick, turning my stomach, making me dizzy.
Finally, after three flights, one lakeside train ride, and twenty-two minutes of heart-stopping, stomach-churning mountain train, I arrived at my destination. Undoubtedly the exhaustion intensified the reception, but to this day, I am certain that Caux, Switzerland, is one of the most beautiful and magical places on this earth. As one of the coordinators showed me to my room (which, incidentally, was in an 8th floor tower, from which I could see two castles, Lake Geneva, and the mountains on the Evian label), I realized that I was living my dream. I’d finally gotten here. My luggage arrived the next day, and the rest of my travels that summer went off without a hitch. The horror of those first few days quickly wore off as the excitement of the adventures ahead took over.
Lessons learned: arrive well-rested, pack necessities in your carry-on, and always know the next address where you are staying!