Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Almost Stranded...Twice!

And so the adventure begins... I have left comfortable, typical life in America for a 6 months abroad. I am spending the first three months in Ireland studying through my college, Taylor University. The last three months I will be in Israel working at a "Ronald McDonald" type house. That part of the trip I'm sure will have plenty of adventures, but right now Ireland has enough to keep me busy. Let me explain....
The adventure started this weekend. My fellow classmates (19 other students from Taylor, IWU, and West Mount) all left for Ireland on Friday, January 28. I went home for a couple days to be with my family and attend a friend's wedding. The plan was for me to arrive in Ireland Tuesday morning, the first day of class. But problems arose....
Minnesota decided to have a huge snowstorm the day I  needed to fly out. As I sat in the terminal, the time for departure got later and later and later. Finally, my flight left, over an hour late. Originally I was supposed to have about an hour and a half layover in Philadelphia to make my connection to Dublin, but with the delays I now had about 25 minutes. Here I was, about to land in an airport I had never been in before, at gate C16 and need to make it to gate A13 in less than half an hour.... No problem. Right? I'm in good shape thanks to Coach Stan's winter conditioning practices! Well, God Sighting #1 saved me from having to sprint. Due to our delayed departure we were assigned a new gate to dock at once we landed- A12. It was perfect! I stepped off the plane and walked right on to my next one. The rest of the passengers were already boarded so I quickly found my seat and we took off not long after that.
God Sighting #2- All the airplane food was edible. In fact, it could almost be called good! No I'm not delusional. It really was pretty tasty. This was a real blessing considering my last meal had been 9 hours before!
All of this was a great adventure, but once we landed in Ireland that took on a whole new meaning! I walked off the plane and headed over to immigration. Once I got up to the counter, I handed the man my passport... The conversation that followed went something like this....
Me: (Very Cheerfully) Hi!
Customs Guy: Hello. How long are you staying?
Me: 3 Months
Customs Guy: What are you doing?
Me: I'm a student here
Customs Guy: Where are you a student?
Me: Well, I'm not a student yet. But I will be when I step through these gates
Customs Guy: Then you're not a student yet. Don't be so presumptuous.
Me: My bad.
Customs Guy: Where are you studying?
Me: In Greystones.
Customs Guy: I need to see the letter from your college explaining this
Me: I don't have a letter
Customs Guy: Then I need to see proof of insurance
Me: I don't have that.
Customs Guy: Then show me a copy of your bank account.
Me: I don't have that.
Customs Guy: What in the world are you doing here? Did you not do any of your research ahead of time? What made you think you could show up and just come into our country?
Me: Well, my class arrived here a few days ago. I had to follow a few days late.
Customs Guy: Well, I'm sure they had all of these things!!!!!!!!
For the next hour and half (probably longer) he proceeded to call several of people in charge of the the Irish Studies Program. (Thankfully, I had brought the packet including our packing information, their telephone numbers, our course outline, and local address. I'm pretty sure this is what saved me in the end.) Then he went and talked to several supervisors and even called the head of immigration in Ireland. All the while declaring this whole thing was "highly irregular!" He could not for the life of him where I was studying, who I was with, and why I did not have all of these typical documents! The other students on my trip had gotten an official letter from Taylor right before they left explaining everything, but since I had been home I missed out on that.
For the first half an hour of this conversation, I really did think he was going to ship me back to my states. He asked me how much money I had access to and was checking when the next flight back left. Ah! I don't know what changed his mind. Maybe I really did just look like a stupid American student whose story thus far couldn't reveal any loopholes... But eventually he granted me a 30 day visa with strict instructions to go to the local police station as soon as possible to register. They would then give me a longer visa so I could stay the whole semester! When he handed back my passport, I finally felt like I could breathe again So now I'm in the country, for now... But that adventure is not over.
I then went to pick up my bag, but since I had been stuck in immigration for so long it had been picked up by the airport staff and put in their secure storage area. I got directions to where that was, but upon arriving at the desk realized there was no one there. Apparently, I had missed them all by 5 minutes! At that point, I just wanted to leave. I figured I would have to leave my bag there and have them ship it to our complex later. Thankfully, however, a nice guy from another airline called the supervisor of the service that had picked up my bag. I was told I would only have to wait 10-20 minutes. So I pulled out my Bible and made it all the way through Ephesians and half of Philippians while I waited.
Once I had my bag I was able to exit, but then I realized something else... I had no idea who was picking me up. And even if I did, I had no idea what they looked like. But I figured I looked enough like a lost American that I would stick out. It must have worked because as I scanned the crowd two smiling faces with halos around their heads and angels wings stepped forward and gave me a hug! (Ok, maybe not. But at that point, it sure seemed like it!) Kyle, who works here, and his wife Kelsey helped me carry my bags and we headed to Greystones.
After all that, the rest of the day was pretty uneventful. I dropped my stuff in the room, ate lunch, went to class, got a tour of the town, ate dinner, and am now typing this.
I'm so tired now. I'm running on about 2 hours of sleep and enough of an emotional roller coaster to last the whole trip. But hey! You learn stuff along the way. I'll reflect more on those lessons tomorrow. For now, it's bedtime.


  1. Natalie! Love hearing your stories. In light of the amount of "adventure" you've already found yourself in... I do need to give just one piece of "Mom" advice (for now)... "STAY ON THE TRAILS!"

  2. Yes 'Mom'! I'll take all the advice I can get after these adventures! I'll be sure to stay on the trails.... unless there is something really cool and old looking that I want to go see and touch and take pictures of! I mean... ok! Maybe I shouldn't have told you that.... I'll stay on the path!

  3. Wow ... you have had a big dose of adventure and made lots of memories in your first 24 hours! Having spent a couple of years in Ireland, we could so envision your experience with customs and baggage. Hope your visit to the garda station to obtain a longer-stay visa goes smoothly. Looking forward to reading more from your Emerald Isle adventure! (Fun to see you and your parents at the Legacy / Southwest bb game before your departure.)