I’ve been quite a few places throughout my past 21 trips around the sun, and along with that, I’ve endured just about every flight and travel snafu that one can imagine. Lost luggage? Check. Pickpocketed? You got it. Boiling ramen water poured on your legs by an elderly Malaysian woman? Sadly. Lost boarding pass? Of course. Accidentally bringing your mom’s sewing scissors into the security check? Naturally. Oh, and missed flights? Every day and twice on Sunday. I’d label myself as a travel warrior, of sorts, but that implies a sort of reciprocity between my travel failures and successes. With absolutely no empirical evidence to present, I can still safely say that I’ve secured the lion’s share of global travel complications.
Part of the beauty in travel is that it makes you appreciate the simplicity of life at home, especially when you’re someone like me, who quite literally has spent more time in the past month with my miniature pig, Otis, than I have with other people my age. Travel scoops you out of your fortified bunker of comfort and consistency and is almost intentionally hectic in its serving as a bridge between the slow and the fast, the big and the small, the old and the new. In a sense, all of global travel can be summed up in a single image.
Close your eyes. It’s summer now and you’re 11 years young. You just spent another summer Tuesday torturing your retinas playing Halo Reach or watching iCarly or whatever with your best friends from the neighborhood. You’ve done this every day for the past 12 days with no protest from your parents. Life is good. They tell you to head up and shower. You prefer to ferment like a fine bottle of merlot and that’s your choice. You’re 11. You’re powerful. They don’t get it. You hop in bed, turn off the lights, pop in your earbuds, and drift to sleep to the sweet sounds of your favorite album from The Fray. BOOM. Your mom throws your door open and scatters your collection of flat-brim baseball caps everywhere. It’s 6 A.M. and she informs you that you’re headed off to a 12 day “Space Camp” in Alabama that you didn’t know about. She swears she reminded you yesterday, and she probably did, but it’s not your fault, your Toaster Strudel were gonna burn. You’re delirious, deprived of your regularly scheduled Mini Wheats and OJ, and are suddenly an unaccompanied minor on a one-way flight to Huntsville. You’re tired. You’re hungry. You’re confused. But, you’re intrigued. Space Camp? Alabama? What? You want to be angry, but you aren’t. You’re excited. You feel like 3 bucks and a pack of menthols, but you’re excited. You’ve experienced the pinnacle of life as an eleven-year-old.
Was that a way-too-long-and-drawn-out metaphor that may have actually occurred (it did) in my childhood that I’m choosing now to share and revisit? Yep. But, it encapsulates a lot of how I’ll probably feel come February 19th, thanks to IES Abroad. I’ve spent my past month and a half at home getting back into my eleven-year-old summer habits of routine and monotony, and it’s just about time for a change. It’s time to lean into the discomfort and hiccups and frustrations that come with preparing for and going about traveling. I’m headed to Shanghai to study business and Mandarin in about two weeks and still haven’t fully internalized how awful that 15-hour economy class flight will be, and that’s fine. It’s global travel, it’s not going to be comfy. I am, though, genuinely excited to be thrust from my home in rural Pennsylvania and kicked to the curb in urban China, and I’m blessed to have the opportunity to share my experiences with y’all from now until June. So. Buckle your seatbelts and put your tray tables in their full upright positions, because ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to space camp.
Jack Toll, Shanghai: Economy, Business & Society Spring 2019