When I left Germany, a person I care a lot about wished me “solvable problems” for my new adventure. Because, as they explained, it is only through the process of overcoming challenges that we grow. This theory was truly put to test during my journey to San Francisco. The first problem arose during my layover in Manchester. Before any flight to the U.S., there are extra security measures, so I had to present my passport and my ESTA-visa. However, the lady then asked for the receipts of my return flights. Which of course I hadn’t thought about. While I tried to explain to her that I’m going to Ecuador after one week, I frantically searched my inbox for the e-mail from Global Citizen Year, containing the flight confirmation. Twenty minutes (and a huge bill for my mobile data) later, I was finally able to present her the code and was allowed to proceed. I made it to my gate in time, got in line for boarding…and noticed the critical gaze of a flight attendant on my suitcase. I always overpack my carry-on item, since no airline has ever checked its weight before. Now however, my worst fear came true: the lady pulled me out of the line, weighed my bag and charged me 80 pounds. Trying not to let this annoy me too much, I boarded my 10 hour flight to San Francisco. Little did I know this was only the beginning of a travel nightmare. 


Flying into San Francisco was quite underwhelming. The city seemed grey and there was smog (or just fog, I still don’t know) hanging over the mountains . I was completely exhausted, sweaty and jetlagged when I left the plane. Just to encounter the most gigantic customs line I had ever seen. Standing in this line weirdly reminded me of queuing for a TwentyOnePilots concert, except I was not here for fun, but waiting to enter a foreign country that is known for its strict security. It took me what felt like the longest three hours of my life to get through customs, and let’s just say the “Welcome to the United States of America” banner in the hall felt a little cynical. When I finally stepped into the baggage claim hall, I made an important discovery: my huge hiking backpack, containing everything I needed for the next 8 months, was not there. This was quite ironic, since I actually kind of expected this to happen. After confirming that it actually hadn’t arrived, I filed a baggage claim and left the airport to find my bus.


I arrived to San Francisco one day early, and was planning on staying with a UWC alumnus in the city. Funnily enough, when I finally made it to the right bus stop, I ran into a German couple. In this state of complete exhaustion, as far from home as I’ve ever been, meeting these two strangers with which I shared a nationality calmed me down a little. Unfortunately, the calmness didn’t last long. I got off at the wrong bus stop and watched my new friends driving off into the dusk. The only other people waiting at this bus stop with me were a young sleazy guy eating couscous and a dressed-up lady with a tiny chihuahua. Since I had no clue where I was or where I had to go, I asked the lady for directions. When she turned around to answer me, her eyes sparkled through her neon-green contact lenses. 

In this first hour in San Francisco, I definitely met as many weird people as I would in a month in Munich… 


Sadly, as the driver of my new bus informed me, the lady’s directions were wrong as well. At the next stop, I got off the bus again. Night had now fully settled, the streets were dark and I was standing completely lost in an deserted, sketchy residential area. My phone was not helpful either, it kept turning itself off and my battery was in a critical state. Not the ideal situation for someone who doesn’t know where they are in a foreign city in a foreign country on a foreign continent. Thankfully, in these kinds of moments, my brain switches into survival autopilot-mode, preventing me from panicking and allowing me to stay relatively calm (even though I also have to thank my exhaustion for that). I used the last 6% of my phone battery to call a cab. Explaining my location to them was not the easiest thing as well “Hi, I’m kind of lost at this bus stop”, but I managed to tell them the name of the nearest street and ten minutes later, a nice Indian taxi-driver picked me up. He was slightly confused as to why I was standing at this random bus stop, so I explained to him that I had gotten lost, to which he reacted very sympathetic. I made it to the flat of my friend and fell into deep, jet-lagged sleep, which woke me up at 5 am. 


The next morning, I made it to the airport again, was greeted by the GCY team and driven to Stanford. The day before, I received an e-mail from San Francisco Airport, telling me that they had located my luggage in Manchester (apparently it was just never sent to SF), and that they would deliver it to Stanford as soon as possible. Great, I thought. Everything is working out, I thought. I was wrong. The next day, I received another e-mail, this time from Lufthansa. They provided me with the link of a very useful website called “wheresmysuitcase.com”, where you can check the status of your delayed luggage. What alarmed me, however, was not the link but the delivery address that was noted on this website:“Munich”. Were they seriously telling me that my backpack would be delivered to Munich?! When I had clearly told them to send it to Stanford? Trying not to freak out, I clicked on the nice button that said “change address”, typed in the Stanford address and tried to save it. “Error”. Turns out it was too late to make any changes. A little more freaked out, I tried to call every single number that might be able to solve this problem. Every single one I called either wasn’t available or directed me to another number. Frustrated, I asked the GCY staff for help. They were super kind and understanding, and continued the odyssey of calling support customer centers for help. No luck. Eventually, we were told to contact the airport directly. So me and Aarati (shoutout to you <3) hopped in an Uber and went back to SFO. The lady at the Lufthansa desk was very nice, but she wasn’t able to help us either. At this point, the only thing we could do was to wait and see where the luggage would be delivered to: Munich or Stanford. I called my parents and tried to figure out how we would solve the worst case scenario. Meanwhile, another GCY staff member took me to Walmart to buy essentials, since I literally had no clothes with me. 


When I called the SFO airport baggage department again the next day, someone actually picked up the phone. I explained my situation for what felt like the 2432 time, and finally, I got the reaction I needed: “Okay Ma’am, we’re going to fix this!” Ten minutes later, he informed me that my luggage was actually at the San Francisco airport. You cannot imagine HOW relieved I was to hear this. Long story short, my backpack was delivered to Stanford that same evening, and I could finally enjoy my time at Stanford without worrying about my lost belongings. <3 


Moral of the story: if something like this happens to you, reach out for help, be persistent, don’t let any customer service shoo you away, keep calling and asking and annoying them, and eventually everything will be okay. Also, as I mentioned in my last blogpost, there will always be people who mean well with you and who will support you even though you literally met them one day ago. Thank you so much to the GCY staff and fellows who were so kind and helpful in this situation, and who made me feel welcomed and safe despite all the stress! <3