After months of preparation and jittery nervousness, I’m heading to the Netherlands for my exchange program. While I have done my fair share of research and have friends living in the country who give me advice, I still don’t know what to expect when I’m finally there. But first, I need to get through the 14 hours of travel ahead of me.
Plane 1 (PST): San Francisco to Chicago
10:46: The plane takes off. I love how everyone stops what they’re doing and just waits — the girl next to me puts down her book and just looks straight ahead, people get off their phones, etc. It’s like one collective breath being held until the plane is safely in the sky.
10:48: Looking at all the houses and streets from above, I have the strong urge to play SimCity. Also, I’m desperately looking for the Campanile.
10:53: Found it! That was a lot harder than I expected. From ground level, the Campanile really stands out against the rest of Berkeley, but from up here, everything just looks really small.
11:23: I’ve been looking out the window for a while now but have found myself briefly dozing several times. Every time I open my eyes, there’s different terrain — we’ve passed over the hills, flat farmland and now the snowy mountains — and it’s a clear day so I can see it all. I should try to stay awake so I can fall asleep later.
11:41: I’m feeling less tired. I’ve got a little setup with my ginger ale and computer, and they’re bringing pretzels and Biscoff cookies right now. Gonna do some writing.
11:53: Just saw a plane zoom by us. Not close enough to worry, but closer than I’ve seen two planes come before. Do planes normally emit that much smoke?
12:16: There’s a perfectly spherical double rainbow outside. Is that just how they look from the sky, or am I tripping?
1:55: Falling asleep again…
2:20: I have to pee like crazy, but I don’t want to wake the person sleeping in the aisle seat. We’ve started to descend anyway, so I figure I can hold it until the airport.
2:41: Touchdown. It’s snowy in Chicago, which makes it look like a little toy town from above. Crazy how I went from blue skies to a winter wonderland in a few hours.
Plane 2 (CST): Chicago to Amsterdam
6:05: It’s a pretty empty flight so I have a whole row to myself, and it seems like nearly everyone else does as well. I’m planning on spreading out to sleep later. “My Girl” by the Temptations is playing and that song slaps, so I’m vibing. The layover was only about an hour, and I was able to finish some work just in time. Nice. Also, robots are spraying antifreeze (?) on the wings and they look scary, like some robots you’d see in a Black Mirror episode.
6:27: There are actually a lot of good movie choices. I’m debating between “Don’t Worry Darling,” “Catch Me If You Can” and “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” I’ve heard good things about all of those and haven’t seen them yet.
7:12: It turns out I didn’t bring the type of earphones that work on the plane, and I turned the free ones down earlier. Also, they weren’t lying when the pilot said there would be turbulence for the first two hours. Ugh.
7:38: I fell asleep again. But now I’m up and have working headphones, pretzels and soda — all compliments of the flight attendants. I think I’ll start a movie.
7:56: Food time! Also, I can’t hear my movie (“Catch Me if You Can”) at all. I mean, it’s loud enough, but I don’t understand what they’re saying.
8:03: The food was surprisingly good. Butter chicken, little salad, bread and a “birthday truffle crumb cake” cookie. I’m gonna try to watch a movie I’ve seen before because it’s hard to enjoy something new when I can’t understand anything.
8:23: I think I finished my crossword — one I started a few weeks ago — but I’m not totally confident in some of the answers. My undoing is not knowing old celebrities.
8:47: I started an old movie I’ve seen before, but it’s not really doing it for me right now. I’m just going to bed.
11:14: Got up to pee. I got a solid hour or so of sleep by leaning against the wall and putting my feet up on the chairs. I’m going to try lying completely horizontal now.
11:21: The turbulence as I get settled feels like a big ol’ earthquake. You know you’re in for it when they ask the flight attendants to take their seats. Also, why were there both male and female recordings in English for “fasten your seatbelts”? I don’t know.
11:44: Lying flat was comfortable, but I still couldn’t sleep. Going back to the sitting-up tactic.
1:46: Just woke up. Lights are back on in the cabin too, and they’re starting to bring food. Also, why am I always cold? I’ve been wearing my heavy jacket this whole time. Doesn’t bode well for me moving.
1:56: I’ve read so many things online about avoiding coffee on planes but it sounds so good right now.
2:04: They were out of whatever was wrapped in foil, and I just found out it was like pancakes or something? Heartbreaking. The little yogurt I ate was actually totally fine, though. I love me a good yogurt. Also,* the sunrise coming through the shaded windows looks almost purple and I’m really into it.
2:10: The loudspeaker says there’s only a half hour left. I’m so excited and also wondering how I’ll carry my 50 pound bag from the bag check. Thank god my friend is picking me up. Also, coffee may have been a mistake — I can feel it sloshing around my tummy.
2:35: Being above the clouds feels so surreal. Right now, they’re the fluffy type and look kinda like a cotton candy ocean.
2:38: The airplane is descending and just broke through the clouds. Y’all, this country looks so beautiful and green. All the canals and brick streets — I’m already in love.
2:45: Touchdown. So excited for my adventure.
Even though I kept feeling my mind wander on the flights, I kept coming back to one thought — how excited and lucky I am to have the opportunity to study abroad. Even though my enjoyment of the long trip here may have wavered, my enthusiasm certainly did not.