Making the decision to travel to the other side of the globe to an unfamiliar country with a culture that is totally different than I am used to, has not been the easiest one. I am absolutely in love with my life in Hawaii. Every day I am living my dream. Living so close to the sea where I can freedive after work or watch the sunset on the most beautiful beaches you could imagine. Leaving this paradise might seem crazy, but I know it is the right choice. As I packed for life in Saudi Arabia, I threw in my travel journal, which I started writing back when I was in high school, when I had my first real abroad experience, to Costa Rica. I flipped through this journal and found a passage that perfectly sums up exactly how I knew that this was the right decision.
“I want to change. I want to travel and learn more about who I really am. I want to do everything with passion. I want to smile more and worry less. To immerse myself in another culture. See life with a new perspective. I want to care less about material objects and more about helping others. I want to love and cherish myself. Be happy about my body and who I am. I want to spend time on becoming healthy. Eat less processed food and more from the earth. I want to push myself beyond my comfort zone. Take risks, say yes more, and become motivation for others. I want to be an idol. Someone for people to aspire to be. I want to be genuine, happy, kind, and myself. I am hoping that travel will help be accomplish these goals. I’m hoping to return home a better, improved version of myself.”
I know that traveling to the other side of the globe is pushing my comfort zone, and the past few months have not been easy, but deep down I know that this was meant to be. During my undergrad education, I was blessed to have so many opportunities to see new parts of the world, gain independence, and confidence which has shaped who I am today. I have never taken the traditional route, but strived to take the road less traveled. Studying abroad in Turks and Caicos as well as Tanzania were the start of this. Sometimes it frustrates me because I know I can’t live an “ordinary” life, I always seek more. I want to do as much as I can, see as much as I can, and life every day to the fullest.
Although I am beyond excited for this journey, I am also extremely anxious. There is so much uncertainty and I just don’t know what to expect, leading to high stress. Not to mention the pretty horrible experience I had to get my student visa. For those of you who don’t know, getting a visa to Saudi is really freaking difficult. You must hire a “visa agent” from Washington DC to help you through the process. This sounds easy, but it took be a few weeks and hiring the wrong agent for me to find out that KAUST only works with certain visa agents. Oops, okay so I got my agent…what next? About 100 different blood tests, urine sample, stool samples, a chest X-ray. All of these tests printed three times and signed by a doctor with their medical stamp and license. Why three copies? I have no idea. I must have gone to the lab 10 times for blood draws, they just kept on coming. Not to mention that my veins are very bad at drawing blood, so I would either get turned away by the lab tech, or they would draw blood from my hand (after a few tries). It was a pretty big disaster, oh but it doesn’t end there. I also had to get my diploma “attested”. I originally thought that this meant my high school diploma needed to be notarized. But nope had to be sent to Washington DC to be sent to the Saudi embassy to be “attested”. Not only that but they needed official transcripts as well as paperwork from registar. Now according to the Saudi student visa instructions, this meant my high school diploma and transcripts so here I am making frantic phone calls and planning to have this paperwork overnighted to DC. But it is summer time and high school is closed and pretty bad at getting back to my phone alls so I emailed half the town. This is still back when I had hired the wrong visa agent, and overnighted my passport and other very important documents to this wrong agent. Eeek such a disaster, but I overcame this stress when I finally hired the correct visa agent who let me know it was my college diploma. So while working fulltime still, I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off, calling people at like 4 AM Hawaii time (10 AM on the east coast). I was able to talk to the registar’s office at Dickinson, who were so amazing and understanding and sent out my official transcripts and paperwork to my correct visa agent. All of this takes time, the diploma attestation takes at least a week, then I could submit the rest of my visa materials. Thankfully, my passport and other important documents made it to the right people at the right time and my visa arrived in the mail on Wednesday, which was really really pushing it considering I headed out Sunday.
As if packing for an 18-month trip wasn’t stressful enough, I was trying to prepare myself for the new culture and ensure I had the appropriate attire. Not to mention I have no clue what to expect. I have no idea what my housing will include (kitchen utensils, sheets, towels, toilet paper??) I really just have no expectations and have no clue what I am getting myself into, thank god I am flexible. In addition to packing, preparing for this trip, and working, I also was trying to make the most of my time on Hawaii. Meaning spending as much time as I could with my parent (and dog) while also trying to freedive every day, eat all my favorite foods, visit all my favorite beaches, ect. It has been insanity. Thanks so much for my parents supporting me through this craziness and my dog for calming me down in my most stressful times.
I am currently typing this as I am flying high in the sky, over the Celtic Sea. My travel time has also been pretty insane. I departed Honolulu at 9 PM Sunday night and had an overnight flight to LAX where I had a 9 hour layover. If you have ever wondered what the absolute worst time to get the 24 hour flu is, I personally experienced this. Yup middle seat for an overnight flight, huge dude sitting next to me that I would have to crawl over when he didn’t wake up when I had to puke. It was super fun. I still don’t know exactly why I felt so horrible, but I am assuming it could be due to the beer I had at the airport. Yup two beers and I was sick as a dog, mixed with sitting at the very last row of the plane. I have never been motion sick, but there is always a first! Due to the lack of sleeping, and fact that I dry heaved for what felt like forever in an airplane toilet (tmi? I am sorry) I ended up hobbling off the airplane, weak dehydrated and nauseous, and found the closest couch and past out for three hours. When I woke up I chugged some water (puked up the water) went to a store and bought anti-nausea pills, and then napped again. When I woke up around noon I was feeling loads better. I got lunch (delicious veggie/yam tacos) and then walked to my gate where Saudia took off. This second flight is 16 hours, apparently the second longest commercial plane ride there is. Thankfully this flight I have my row to myself, so I am lounged out and comfy! There’s chargers and everything! They even gave us a little “amenities package” with ear plugs, toiletries, socks, and eye mask! They also have some new movies, so I watched “table 19” which the airlines snipped out the kissing scenes which was funny. And now I am watching Dexter as I’m sprawled on all three seats. I found out you can download Netflix movies to watch them offline, which is how I am watching my TV shows on a plane. It is pretty awesome. I am feeling a lot better and still am anxious for arrival, customs, and traveling to campus. I will make sure to make an update about how orientation goes!