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Overcoming and Learning from Challenges Abroad

Guest Blogger: Cristina Valdez 

Before leaving for my study abroad journey to Sweden, I was feeling like any other student: excited for the new adventures and yet a little nervous for what was to come. My itinerary had two connections, the latter was at Heathrow Airport in London, U.K. After landing at Heathrow, I would take a direct flight to Stockholm which would finally deliver me to my host country. But, things didn’t go exactly as planned.

We landed early in the morning in London, and I woke to see the airport runways covered with snow. I could sense the panic in the travelers around me. Something was definitely wrong. I exited the plane and hurried through to find my gate, but once I arrived I was told that ALL European connecting flights were cancelled. This meant that over 400 flights were scrapped because of one fluffy inch of snow. It was unbelievable!

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At this moment, I knew that I would have to face this unexpected challenge head on. I found an airport agent who told me I had to go to the 5th floor re-booking center so I could be put on a new flight. When I got there, I was astonished. There were hundreds of people waiting in line, and the line wrapped around the entire floor.

Then, I remembered some words I was told during my Study Abroad Pre-Departure orientation: “things may not always turn out as planned, but you can do your best to have a rewarding experience while abroad.” This motivated me, and I got in line, hoping for the chance to get on a flight to Sweden.

The day passed slowly, and it was nearing closing hours. I was one person away from the front of the line when it was announced that the re-booking center would be closing until 5am the next morning. I was extremely disappointed, but I had to look at the bright side of things. The airline provided me and fellow passengers with mats and blankets, dinner, and free internet, so I took the opportunity to contact my family via Skype. Hearing their comforting words helped me renew my self confidence.

Despite the circumstances, I encouraged myself and I had a certain faith that I would be in Sweden the next morning. Night passed quickly, and by 8am I was finally re-booked on a flight directly to Stockholm. I made it to the Stockholm airport just in time to catch a bus to the Uppsala city center. There, I randomly met two other Danish exchange students who showed me around and took me to the housing office where I picked up the keys to my room.

Upon my arrival, I had a moment of realization. I had the opportunity to live in a different country and experience its language and culture to the fullest. After two long days, and countless hours of jet lag, I was finally in Uppsala and I was finally studying abroad.

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Now, I look back on those first two days and feel grateful. Though the circumstances weren’t ideal, they taught me that if I could overcome those challenges and uncertainties, I could tackle anything my study abroad semester threw at me.

Perseverance, confidence and support through uncertainty are important qualities that are developed and reinforced while studying abroad. Now, I am always confident that no matter what flight gets cancelled, or where I have to spend the night, I can remain calm, encourage myself and know that I survived that night on a yoga mat at Heathrow airport and everything turned out just fine.