Before coming to Bishkek, I had never been out of the United States except for a few quick jaunts into Canada and Mexico. I didn’t start feeling nervous about my trip until I suddenly realized, mid episode of Game of Thrones, that I was leaving in three days. Up until then, I just hadn’t actually believed that I would be going to Kyrgyzstan this summer because traveling abroad was something that I had wanted to do for so long and it had yet to actually happen. The day of my departure I woke up at 3:30am and drove with my mom through a sleepy Cincinnati toward the Dayton Airport. I watched the sun rise over Ohio as my plane took off and bounced around my seat in excitement, earning a disapproving glare from the businessman next to me who was obviously a seasoned traveler.
My first flight from Dayton to DC went fine and I confidently walked off the jet way into the Washington-Dulles airport and on to my next gate for my flight to JFK in New York, where I was to meet the rest of the people in my program for our group flight to Bishkek. After being delayed for half an hour, my flight to JFK was cancelled. I have no proof of this, but I’m pretty sure this was the universe getting back at me for petting one of the airport drug dogs when his handler wasn’t looking. I followed the rest of the passengers who were supposed to be on my flight to the customer service desk where we were told that there were no open flights to JFK until 5:20pm. Seeing as I had to meet my group for our flight at 11:20am this was not the best of news I went to the United Airline terminal to see if they could help me but I was told over and over that there were no flights to JFK until the evening. I called my program director and she in turn called the program’s travel agent who thankfully is apparently very good at his job. There was no way for me to make the group flight at this point, but our travel agent somehow managed to find and get me on another flight which would leave about five hours later than the group flight. This point marked the beginning of the two most exhausting and stressful days of my life. They included two taxi rides, six airports, fifteen hours of flying, and a ten-hour layover in Moscow. The thing is, as exhausting and stressful as it was; I met some amazing people and learned more about myself in those two days than I had in the past few months.
In DC I met a taxi driver from South Korea who had come to the US twenty years ago because his father had made him leave the country. Now he has two kids who have graduated from college and one who is going on to law school (bonus: he had a giant basket of candy in his taxi that he pilfered from his sister’s grocery store). On my flight to Moscow, I sat next to a boy who was returning to Russia after studying in Alaska. He told me about his experience there and about his life in Russia. He also had my back and made sure to wake me up whenever snacks came by. During my ten-hour layover in Moscow, I befriended a group of Americans going to Thailand for a “boy’s adventure.” We explored the airport and wondered if Edward Snowden had ever napped on the booths in the Burger King (if you ever find yourself stuck in the Moscow airport by the way, I highly recommend napping on those booths. They’re heavenly.) One of them, who told me his name was Alex, was going to Thailand for work as well as play. He was into real estate and development and the company he worked for had a base in Thailand that he was going to. He was only a year or two out of college and, as an incoming senior myself, I was interested to know how he had managed to find and get involved in a career path that he was so passionate about so quickly. I asked him if real estate had always been an interest of his and he laughed and shook his head. He smiled ruefully and told me that his college career had been quite a mess and after college he had stumbled out into the world with absolutely no idea what he wanted to do. He just happened to fall into real estate after he met a man during his travels his first year out of college who ended up turning into his mentor. As I pondered Alex’s story on those very comfy Burger King booths, I realized that I was happy that I had missed that flight. Yeah I was tired and would have literally traded my soul for a pillow, but what I lacked in standard sleeping arrangements, I had made up for with the people who I had met. For me, this trip isn’t just a chance to see a new things, it’s also a sort of trial period. It’s a chance for me to see if this travel thing is what I’ve always hoped it would be and if it’s something I want to do with my life. I am currently only a week into my program, but I’ve already come to the conclusion that traveling is definitely something that I want to continue doing throughout my life, and this decision mostly has to do with those exhausting first two days of panic and uncertainty. Those first two days taught me that traveling is as much about the people you meet and experiences you have along the way as it is actually arriving at your destination (I’m pretty sure there’s a really cliché quote on Pinterest that says basically the same thing). Something I didn’t expect was how many stories I would collect from the people I met. Most of them, I only knew for a few hours at most and I still don’t even know many of their names. I’ll probably never get the chance to thank them for getting me through those two days, but I know I’ll always remember them and how they opened up their lives to me and showed me a beautiful aspect of traveling that I hadn’t expected to find.