An Irrational Worrywart Flying Alone From Newark to Oslo, Norway — The North Star Reports – by Jonia Gordon. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal
Editor’s Note: this is a part of a special series from Jonia Gordon, a talented student who is studying in Oslo, Norway for the Fall 2015 semester. Jonia is a thoughtful writer, as well as a talented artist. The illustrations that accompany this article are also by Jonia.
All summer my parents would ask “Are you getting nervous?” The reason they asked me this question was, come August, I would be studying abroad in Oslo, Norway for 4 months. In all honesty, I wasn’t that nervous—though the constant question stirred my nerves each passing day—as it was still a very abstract concept for me.
The summer seemed to speed by and that meant time to pack. I started to pack three days before I left, which was coincidentally, the latest my parents would allow me to put it off… I had two large suitcases and a travel backpack to fill with everything I would need for a third of a year. It was a moment of peculiarity. I was packing with the knowledge that—unlike college—I could not simply go home or have my parents bring the things I forgot. All at once, as I sat surrounded by piles of clothes, I realised just how permanent it felt. As I stuffed my luggage with clothes for all sorts of weather (thank goodness for storage saver bags!), toiletries, and necessities, the fear that had trickled in all summer was starting rain upon me.
(Note: An eye-catching luggage is very easy to find (left) at baggage claim, whereas the more conspicuous one (right) can lead you to reach for luggage you thought was your own but really belonged to a Norwegian family.)
Nevertheless, I was proud to have fit everything (or so I thought) that I needed in the three bags I had chosen for my luggage. The day before my flight, my family and I packed everything up in the car, I said farewell to my grandfather and then we were off. The day seemed to pass in fast and slow motion all at once as the next day arrived: Departure Day. The rain of fear that I was talking about earlier; yeah, that fear was now drowning me.
We had an early sit-down breakfast before we went to the airport. My family (parents and older sister) helped me to get my luggage checked and then led me to the line for security. We shared hugs and my mother cried—then we found out I had to go to a different security checkpoint and repeated the whole thing again. They left as I waited in life for my turn to go through the scanner and I tried to focus on anything but the fact that my family was leaving the airport without me.
The first flight I had was from Minneapolis, MN to Newark, NJ and it went fairly well. Though there were a few moments that could have gone better: (1) A person giving me my ticket which had fallen behind me, (2) I (in reaction to 1) checked my carry-on 4 times before looking for my gate due to an irrational fear that I had forgotten my passport, and (3) having to lug my bag everywhere with me was a hassle. Due to it not being my flight out of the U.S., I didn’t have that much anxiety about it. After arriving in Newark, I had a 5 hour layover—45 minutes of which was spent wandering around trying to find my gate—and the rest of that wait was spent munching on overpriced airport food and listening to people speak in Norwegian.
After the long hours passed, I finally stood in line to board the 8 hour flight to my destination. Rapidly, I felt like I couldn’t breathe and all sorts of irrational thoughts sprung about my mind in flurried movements. I could just not go, fly home, and never think about it again. Or what if I’m on board the plane that—despite a low probability—crashes into the ocean and I die. All sorts of scenarios rampaged my mind (each more and more unlikely and unrealistic) and then I was boarding the plane.
I, unluckily, had a middle seat. It wasn’t a terrible experience; however, I didn’t sleep as I feared I would end up sleeping/leaning on of my seatmates and had to frequently get up throughout the flight so that my window-seatmate could use the washroom. The flight was long and I had foolishy not charged my iPod battery—leading me to simply stare ahead at the seat in front of me as the in-flight media was not working. The food wasn’t the best, but I didn’t feel like eating anyway. I just wanted to land safely and proceed with my life. When I did land and go through customs, baggage claim, and finding my professor, I was ready to sleep for half a day. Instead, we proceeded to get our keys, move-in, meet all the people in the program, and go to IKEA. My professor strongly suggested that we stay up as late as possible so that we could adjust to the time change. I went to sleep at 23.30. Thankfully, I adjusted within two days and was able to start enjoying the adventure that is studying abroad.
(Note: though I have to go through this again when the 30th of November comes…)
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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, The College of St. Scholastica and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal’s online learning community and outreach program with undergraduate and K-12 classes around the world. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:
The North Star Reports publishes edited essays from our students, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Students have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, Colombia, Norway, northeastern China, Nicaragua, Micronesia, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, El Salvador, England, Finland, Russia, Cyprus, and Haiti. We also publish student reviews of books, documentaries, and films, and analysis of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports students and teachers. We thank The Department of History and Politics and the School of Arts and Letters of The College of St. Scholastica for their generous financial support for The North Star Reports and The Middle Ground Journal.
Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica.
Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.
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46 responses to “An Irrational Worrywart Flying Alone From Newark to Oslo, Norway — The North Star Reports – by Jonia Gordon. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal”
It’s amazing how much we worry about things like a plane ride. I felt the same way on my way to Mexico; nervously passing my passports and paper from hand to hand, opening my backpack and purse like 50 times to make sure my wallet and passport were in there, taking them out when I thought they might fall out. What is really interesting is to think about all the people around us, on the plane, in line, who are thinking the exact same time. How long do you think it will take you to get used to home time when you depart on the 30th? I thought it would take me at least a week to get back into US life and being able to laze around, but I was ready the minute I got off the plane! I slept GREAT that night 😀
I think it’s so amazing what you’re doing; I know I myself could not possibly go abroad for a whole semester as 6 weeks was more than enough for me due to homesickness. I hope Oslo is amazing and treating you well! 🙂
Having never been on a plane before, I can’t really relate to your fears. And considering my first opportunity to fly will come next summer, it’s a little too far in the future for me to start worrying now. Luckily, I wont be flying on my own. I can see how going so far by yourself would be more than a little nerve-wracking.
Have a good first flight!
Thanks for the kind words and sharing your experience! I’m definitely hopeful that adjusting to the time change will be decent as I arrive back in Minneapolis at 19.00/7. I think I’ll have more trouble adjusting to the social interactions!
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I like your illustrations, they go along splendidly with the article! Have you comfortably adjusted to the major time difference yet? I imagine the culture shock will be another whole change to become acquainted with. It’ll be interesting to see how the weather and climate (especially when winter arrives) compares to Minnesota. Hopefully you haven’t forgotten anything back at home, and best of luck adjusting, although I’m sure you won’t need it!
Thank you! I adjusted to the time change within two days – thank goodness, The culture shock is definitely a constant underlying feeling but I enjoy seeing and learning about the differences. Winter…It’s coming. The weather currently appears parallel to back in Minnesota.
The fear of flying such a great distance is very powerful based on the many different variables and unknowns. I appreciated the original artwork. It greatly added to the visual setting you portrayed of the travel process. You conquered the first leg of your journey by traveling and getting adjusted. Best of luck in your future Norwegian endeavors! Can’t wait to hear more.
Thank you for the kind words!
I studied abroad in Ireland last spring and had to fly by myself as well. It was my first time ever flying, so I can understand your struggle! I can promise you the flight back home will be so much easier and you’re going to feel like an absolute pro! The wait in Newark for your flight back to Minneapolis is the worst part! You’re so stuck in the middle of your “two” homes and you’re just ready to be done. I hope you enjoy your time abroad!
Thanks for the reassurances of a less stressful journey home – I’ll definitely remember them when I get ready to board the planes!
Having also flown by myself I know exactly how you felt! I am curious as to what was the first Norwegian food/drink that you had as well as the first cultural difference that you noticed?
The first food: lompa with hot dogs, onions, and paprika potato salad. Drink: water is wonderful over here.
Cultural difference: it’s considered more rude to stop and say sorry for bumping into people (if the bump was shoulders or something) as it takes up personal time.
Thanks for reading!
I flew to London over the summer and I felt exactly the same way you did in the airport. I had a direct flight so when my parents left me in Minneapolis to go through security it was hard not to cry from sheer panic. I, too, imagine everything that could go wrong on the flight, such as crashing and dying. I hope the rest of your trip goes well and I hope you continue writing about it.
Thank you! I hope you had a wonderful time on your trip – glad to see your worst fears weren’t met as well!
I went to London in the spring and I can definitely relate! (Although I was only there for weeks instead of months). The flight back was much better than the flight over, as there was much better food and it was during the day. Did you have an overnight flight? My flight was and it was much easier to adjust, but it took me several days to adjust when I got back. I remember getting advice to just buy toiletries over there so I had extra room in my suitcase – did you do that? I would imagine it would be difficult to do when the products are labeled in a different language.
I hope you had a wonderful time in your travels. I definitely hope that my flight back will be easier – I’ll be landing back at 19.00, so hopefully that will help to get myself on schedule. I had an overnight flight on the way here and I was so tired but couldn’t sleep. I actually got the opposite advice: to buy my toiletries from home and bring them with me. The reason being that Oslo (and Norway in general) is expensive. On the bright side: while labels are in Norwegian, the images are helpful (along with the Norwegian classes I’m taking – though that’s going slow). Thank you for reading!
Great drawings! I look forward to your future pieces as I hope they will include your art! I found the section on saying goodbye to your family to be a good representation of how many goodbyes go . In many of Liang’s classes, we talk about how the feelings of homesickness affect travel and migration. Your piece certainly captures that initial “goodbye” feeling.
Thanks for sharing your observations! I’m happy that you enjoyed my drawings and article.
I really enjoyed your observation on the finality of packing. Having traveled a lot myself, I’ve noticed that I don’t entirely register the fact that I’m leaving my home until I see all my belongings sprawled out in front of me. It seems ridiculous, but it can definitely be an emotional moment. You’re illustrations were beautiful and I hope your studies and travels in Oslo are treating you well!
Thank you for reading and your kind words!
When I traveled to London, only for a week during Spring Break my senior year of High School, I had many of the same anxieties you had about flying. Although, I am sure your anxieties and fears were much stronger than mine since you were leaving for an extended period of time. In any case, I did have a seat in the center between two people I had never met. The whole time I feared I would wake up with my head resting either on the shoulder of the man in the fancy suit (probably a CEO of some important global organization) or the well-dressed British woman on the other side (probably a famous model). Then they would look at me with condescending expressions like the incompetent American teen who is going to annoy them with blasting hip-hop music coming from their headphones the entire flight. I also had a fear that the person next to me would get annoyed every time I had to get up and use the bathroom, or that I would need to use the bathroom while they were asleep. Luckily, none of this happened. Either way it is good to know I was not alone in my feelings. It is also great to hear that you had a decent flight overall, and made it to Oslo safely. I look forward to reading more of your articles and really enjoyed the illustrations you created as well!
Wah, reading your comment was fantastic! I definitely relate to that fear of falling asleep on your seatmates… I’m happy that it ended with none of your negative imaginings coming true. Thanks for reading and your kinds words! It brought me some laughter.
Your story was so interesting. When I finished it, I could not believe that I was done. What interested me most about it is that I will have to go through that very same experience in the coming years. You are an amazing artist, I could really see what you experienced through them. I can not wait to hear more about Norway.
Thank you for your kind words! I hope that you will have a wonderful experience when you head off yourself.
The illustrations were amazing and the captions were hilarious! I really liked how you started your piece off with your hesitation to pack for this month long trip. I can agree with you on putting it off till three days before the departure. The details in your writing were awesome when you started to talk about how the fear inside started to drown you was great, it felt as if i was seeing the fear that you were feeling. Doing anything this big alone is scary so i don’t blame you, i would feel the same way. Really great article I can’t wait to hear more about your journey in Norway.
Thank you so much for your kind words! Happy that you enjoyed the article and illustrations.
Reading this article made me nervous for when I want to study abroad. I haven’t yet made plans or even think about studying abroad. I give you props for having the courage to do that! What made you want to study in Oslo? Do you still have contact with your family back home?
Don’t be nervous! Or rather, be nervous but continue forward to making plans. It’s a fantastic experience that has allowed me to try different things and learn to rely on myself (learning experience~). I actually wished to study in South Korea or India for a long time, but then the program that I’m currently on was a perfect fit for what I’m majoring in (Global, Cultural, and Language Studies). [Plus, it made my parents less stressed.] I stay in contact with my family through social media and have (at least: brief) contact everyday.
I have yet to fly internationally, but the few times I have flown I’ve gone through the gauntlet. Having my luggage sent to the wrong city, having my luggage searched, getting to be fully body x-rayed, hitting turbulence, you name it! I feel like flying for 8 hours would be a whole new stress, a little different than a 5 day bus tour anyways. I hope to be able to read more about Oslo. I like that you created your own illustrations, it made the article so much more enjoyable to read!
Wah~ You really have gone through the gauntlet, eh? Hopefully all your future flights will be without issue. Thanks for reading and the kind words!
How fun, Jonia! I can’t wait to hear about more of your adventures during your trip. That sounds extremely scary, but it seems like you did well in moving past it and finding your feet in another country. What are you studying there? What are you most excited about? As many of the previous commentators, I really enjoy your illustrations as well. I also am excited to see more of those!
Hey Jenna! Thanks for your kind words and thoughts. I’m studying the welfare system and national identity politics of Norway + the language. I’m most excited for an upcoming trip to Bergen with two friends from the program and going to Mary Poppins with a fellow CSS student in the program! Hope you have been well.
I had the exact same realizations when I was getting ready to go to New Zealand for a semester! I could not figure out all of the things I needed to bring for the life of me. How can you predict what you will need for that long of a time?? The time adjustment and jet lag were horrible, I can relate to the not sleeping on the plane as well. This is a very well written story and I hope to read more from you soon!
Thank you very much! It is truly hard to figure out what you need to bring with you. For example, a few people brought along laundry detergent – a smart choice as it’s fairly expensive here.
I myself have anxiety when it comes to airports. My mom when I was younger got held back for two hours in security, because she had a clipped license that expired and they mailed her new one to the wrong house. I know how boring long flights can be as well. I”m curious if once you got there, if there was anything that they wouldn’t let you bring through customs? My family travels out of the country a lot and there is always things that certain countries won’t allow.
Howah! What an experience to have. I’m not sure what I can and cannot bring through the airport (I was able to bring large bottles of shampoo&conditioner, sunscreen, and hair products…). Hopefully, I am able to bring back chocolate in my luggage as I promised some friends I would…I’ll have to research that now! Thanks for reading!
Well this sure makes packing for college sound easy. I couldn’t quite imagine being that isolated from anyone like that other than a professor. I’m sure you grew up quite a bit during that trip. Did you remain wary about your situation during the coming months, or did you get over it?
I’ll be honest, Norway can be isolating if you don’t put yourself out there to make friends. The best thing to do is go out to parties (though that’s not my thing) or go to school clubs – to have something that brings you together or serves a purpse. For the first few weeks, the isolation got to me. Now, I’ve made some close friends within my program, Norwegian language course, and with my flatmates. Thanks for reading!
I really like these illustrations that appear in your article. Nice job! It really made the article more exciting. Also, the captions underneath them made this even better. I can totally relate to putting off packing until the day before. I always forgot to bring some important stuff, like with me going home last weekend then forgetting all of my makeup (I’m still waiting for it in the mail).
I hope you’ve gotten your makeup in the mail by now. Thanks for the kind words.
Joni, while I’ve been enjoying your pictures on Facebook, it’s really cool to hear about what you’ve experienced just to get there. I’d love to hear more about Oslo and it’s culture. What’s the food like? Also, what are you classes like?
Kaytie! So happy to see that you are attending CSS! Hope you are enjoying your freshman year. There are some cultural differences that have thrown me off for sure, one is: eye contact and communication with strangers without a purpose is not common at all. It was disconcerting at first, but now I sometimes feel awkward when strangers talk to me. I’ve just written about food – so feel free to read that if you have free time! My classes focus primarily on the welfare state of Norway and identity of Norwegians that is changing due to the influx of immigrants. I’m also taking a Norwegian course! Hope you are doing well!
I can only imagine the stress that you were having while in the airport. I get stressed just going to class and I worry about forgetting something! I’m glad I’m not the only one that gets stressed over these things. Glad you made it safe and I hope you continue to share your stories of Norway!
Thanks! I feel the same way about going to class – even then I tend to forget things and have to trek back.
Jonia, I so appreciate how well-written this article about how the anxieties of new experiences can be. I luckily have flown abroad twice in groups, and flew once in the U.S. on my own, so I am not afraid of the flying part. I am, however, deathly afraid that I will somehow forget to pack something incredibly important and I will feel embarrassed and possibly be in big trouble. I’m very anxious about my passport when I travel, and now, as I’m thinking about 4 months from now when I’ll be leaving, I’m already nervous I’ll forget something also vital: my medications, especially since I have to bring a significant supply of them! What if I lost them all? Will a Norwegian provider be willing to represcribe them for me? AHHHHH! Luckily there are people to ask these questions to so I don’t have to freak out quite as much. I am also glad that I am planning to be in Europe before I start my semester in Norway, so I will have time to adjust to the time change and not be overly exhausted in navigating the school situation. I am impressed that you were able to function. When I had to do an overnight flight and function all day with walking around Berlin, I thought I was going to fall asleep walking (although I think the blisters on my feet kept me awake through the 10 miles or so). It is really exciting to be planning for this trip and I am glad I get to read your reflections as a guide.