Exactly five days ago I was sitting in John F. Kennedy airport, three and a half hours early for my flight to Thessaloniki, Greece. Scheduled at 6:50 P.M, I was bouncing in my seat, ready to go. This post comes five days late because what started off as a journey filled with anticipation and excitement led to one of anxiety, stress and anger.
The truth is, I started off the day nervous. Studying abroad for six weeks in Greece? Sounds amazing, right? However, like many other broke college students I had never left the country without my family. I traveled alone once, a short flight to visit my friend in The University at Buffalo. My mother watched me as I went through security, not letting her eyes off of me even as I walked away, a tiny dot lost among a sea of more important people.
My happiness deflated the moment I hugged my mother goodbye and walked onto the line with others, preparing to go through security. Nervousness filled me from head to toe, making me dizzy, because this time I didn’t have the safety of a friend meeting me on the other side. I was going to embrace a group of strangers instead.
The nervousness subsided when the loudspeaker revealed the plane was delayed. First, for thirty minutes and then every fifteen minutes they delayed the plane again. They offered no explanation as passengers impatiently tapped their feet on the ground. Groans could be heard as those desperately trying to reach Istanbul, Turkey and their connecting flights waited.
Over two hours later we boarded the plane tired and weary. Almost nine hours later, without a bump in the air, rubbing our eyes, pulling out bags, slipping shoes and socks on, we made it to our destination.
Turkey was my first stop to Thessaloniki and almost ended up as my last. My ticket for the next flight read 12:15, the clock read 14:15. The tears started rolling as passengers whizzed by me, speaking languages my ear will never comprehend.
One phone call to my mother later and a teary cry for help from an employee of Turkish airlines confirmed my worst fear–my flight left and the next happened to be tomorrow.
Before I go on to the next part I should tell you the flight itself to Turkey wasn’t all that bad but it wasn’t great either. I know when you go to different countries you should be prepared to hear them speak in their native tongue but so many people speak English now. It’s easy to forget not everyone speaks english. I was prepared to hear people speak Greek but was reassured by my home school, The College of Staten Island, a majority of people in Thessaloniki speak English.
What I wasn’t ready for was Turkish or being called a ‘stupid American’ by the people in the airport who are supposed to help you and lessen your fears about flying.
They made mine worse.
I know it wasn’t their fault (well, it was partly since the plane was delayed) and I can sympathize with the workers, who have to deal with angry and disgruntled customers on a day-to-day basis. However, calling me stupid made me feel like a fish out of water. As I bounced from customs to purchasing a visa to stay in Turkey overnight and then get a hotel (which the airline covered) I was met with eye rolls, employees muttering under their breath, pointing and laughing at me from afar and naming each language they could speak before deciding to just talk to me in English.
No, I don’t speak Turkish. No, I don’t speak German. No, no, no.
Angry and alone, I sat in my hotel room completely embarrassed. I’m not a cultural attache and don’t pretend to be one. I speak Spanglish and cannot remember Italian anymore, except for basic words which would give me away as a tourist or imposter.
More than anything, Turkish Airlines instilled fear in me.
I could not survive six weeks alone in Greece.