Adia, Outreach Coordinator for World Endeavors, write about her worst day abroad, which also happened to be her first.
I landed at London Gatwick jetlagged and dehydrated, with only a vague sense of where I was supposed to go to catch the train to London. According to my “Getting to the Dorm from the Airport” packet I’d gotten from the University, I could pay for my ticket once I was already on the train, saving me from having to deal with confusing ticket machines and foreign currency, or worse, having to (ugh) actually talk to someone and display my ignorance for everyone in that tiny part of the airport who would surely be staring at me, wrinkling their noses at the pungent odor of inexperience wafting from my brain.
I somehow managed to find my way through baggage claim and customs onto the train, and settled into a seat kitty corner from a young man who believed in black leather and avoiding showers. He had a delightful accent, though, and I felt a shiver of secret pleasure. I’m finally here! I thought.
I could hear the conductor coming to collect tickets, so I dug out the pounds I’d exchanged for dollars back in the States. I knew the fare, and proudly handed over the bill. Look at me go! Using foreign currency! I crowed to myself. The conductor took my bill, handed me a ticket, and dropped four coins into my palm, and I stared at them, trying to work up the courage to tell this man, this authority figure in the country where I was a guest, that he had shortchanged me.
“Excuse me,” I said to the conductor. “I gave you a ten pound note.”
He looked down at me. (Was that a sneer?)
“Yes,” he snapped, “and I gave you four pounds back.”
I stared at the coins in my palm, my stomach dropping as I realized they said, “£1”, quite clearly.
So much for my newfound confidence.
My cheeks burned as I stuffed the coins in my pocket and turned to stare out the window and watch the passing countryside, hoping the shame wouldn’t turn into tears.
The train pulled into Victoria Station, and I dragged my 60-pound bag down to the Tube. I stopped at the bottom of the stairs, probably blocking hundreds of people behind me, but I couldn’t process my part in any potential traffic jams. Here was yet another gauntlet, yet another opportunity for my lack of international experience to rear its stinky head.
Look for Part Two of “Surviving My Worst Day Abroad” in next month’s newsletter!