Jan. 6 is a day I will never forget. Not only was it the day I left for my semester abroad in Freiburg, Germany, it was also one of the most embarrassing days I have ever had in my 21 years of existence.
I boarded my first flight from Los Angeles to Chicago. My seatmates were a middle-aged man to my right and a young woman to my left. I thought nothing much of them and was much more focused on watching “Boyhood” during the four-hour journey.
As my uneventful flight was coming to an end, there was a sudden drop in elevation as we descended into Chicago. I began experiencing unbearable nausea and scrambled to find the airsickness bag that is usually tucked into the seat’s back pocket. Mine did not contain one. Before I could ask for help from anyone around me, the nausea disappeared as quickly as it came — because the half-digested remnants of the bagel and orange juice I had for breakfast were all over me and my seatmates.
I sat in shock. The woman to my left sprang into action, hit the button for assistance and pulled out a few small napkins for me. The man to my right was initially — and rightfully — angry, but softened when a flight attendant came to my aisle with a large trash bag, wet wipes and a thick stack of paper towels. My seatmates cleaned themselves up and even wiped vomit from my hair as I apologized profusely.
As people began exiting the plane, a young man sitting in front of me told me to follow him to the United Airlines club and lounge where they had showers I could use to clean myself up and get changed. I thanked him just as profusely as I had apologized to my seatmates moments earlier. I never learned his name or the names of my seatmates, but I am forever grateful for the kindness they exhibited as I wallowed in my own filth and embarrassment.
Unfortunately, my bad luck continued. When I arrived in Zurich, Switzerland, I discovered that one of my bags never made it to baggage claim. It contained my heavy coats, jackets, sweaters, pants and towels. I had planned on changing into a pair of jeans as soon as I got the bag because the only pair of pants I had packed in my carry-on was a pair of pink flannel pajama bottoms. I didn’t want to meet the more than 80 other strangers joining me in the program while dressed in pajamas.
After going through customs, I took several escalators down to the airport train station. Just as I lost hope for finding pants, I laid eyes on an H&M. Signs for sales were littered throughout the store. I dashed in and purchased the first pair of jeans that fit me. I had never felt so lucky before that moment.
Long story short, I received my suitcase two days after my arrival in Freiburg. Despite wearing the same pair of pants and shoes for those two days, I had nothing to complain about. I’m in the warmest city in Germany — located in the heart of the Black Forest — and I gave more than a dozen people a great story to tell about that flight to Chicago.