Friday, September 25
Here we go…I’m now happily at the tailside of a very confusing day. Confusing as in traveling at 4am, figuring out endless registration paperwork, & trying not to trip over my full length down coat & 100+ pounds of luggage. Also confusing as in being overloaded by contradictory yet concentrated emotions; anticipation & dread, aching grief for the ones I’m already missing & delight at meeting so many great new friends, confidence that I’m embarking on an adventure of a lifetime & fear that I just can’t do it. Yikes, even writing about it is exhausting.
Some highlights of the seemingly endless day: all in all the morning sucked. Saying goodbye to everyone felt something akin to a sucker punch to the neck (not that I know what that feels like…Lucas Conner Cook). I was expecting to be sad but standing there in the security line daring someone to make eye contact with me while I bawled my eyes out was a new low. Oh yeah & then at the terminal…OK fine at takeoff too. Luckily I had all three seats on the plane to myself so I unashamedly looked out the window at the beautiful aerial view of Chicago and sobbed.
Things looked up after landing though. I found a few other youngish people bogged down with luggage and looking like they’d received similarly vague directions outside the airport. After discovering that the hotel shuttles that we were waiting for didn’t exist we split up into pairs & cabbed it over to the hotel with an hour to spare. The people here are so fun. We all have the same anxious energy which I think is helping us to become fast friends. And to illustrate their many winning characteristics I would just like to point out that not one of the 110 people in my group made any sort of “You’re so tall” comment 🙂 Registration & training took up the rest of the afternoon but the 7 hours actually went by pretty quickly & highlighted that we’re all sharing a similar medley of overwhelming emotions. Sitting in that conference room made the impending journey finally seem real & helped me focus on all of the good that lies ahead instead of all of the great that I’m leaving behind.
After the session ended around 7:30 we all broke up & planned on using our generous (no sarcasm mother, it really was generous) travel spending allotment to go out to dinner in Philly. In true Alei form however, I realized the night before leaving that I’d lost my battery pack for my new camera so I booked it in a cab to a Best Buy downtown in order to get there before they closed at 9 & then had a last meal of a fruit & chicken salad with my favorite honey mustard from Chik-Fil-A…smashchno (Ukrainian equivalent of Bon Appetit). I made it just in time & ended the night ensuring that I was technologically equipped to handle Ukraine, called my mom while I still have a functioning cell phone, & listened of course to Taylor Swift (thank you Smashley & Coll Doll).
So there we have it. Next stop, 6am wakeup & bus to New York, layover in Frankfurt, Germany & then our final flight to Kyiv (which, unsurprisingly I’ve still apparently been pronouncing wrong the whole time). I miss & love you all but am happy to say that next time you hear from me I’ll be writing, well typing, from sunny (?) Ukraine 🙂