“You have a one-hour layover in Dublin,” my mom said. “It’s just two easy flights. You’ll be in Rome by tomorrow morning.”
Standing at the doors of O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on May 16, I hugged her and my brother the tightest I had in months, holding back tears. I was leaving to study abroad at Loyola’s John Felice Rome Center and wouldn’t be back for more than nine weeks.
I was beyond excited, of course, but my anxiety-ridden brain was praying everything would go smoothly. I rarely fly by myself and even more rarely do those flights have layovers. The odds of something going wrong felt exponentially higher than they should have, but I put on a brave face and told myself everything would be fine.
I slept through my eight-hour flight to Dublin, only waking when the flight attendants handed out breakfast burritos, and our plane finally landed at 4:55 a.m Irish Standard Time.
My next flight was in the same terminal, so I thought I’d be able to go straight to the gate. You can imagine my confusion when airport workers told me I had to go through immigration first. I figured they knew better, so I listened.
Immigration took a hot minute. Several of them, actually. I had to go all the way through Dublin Airport security, and my antsiness began to grow as the minutes quickly ticked by. My flight was at 6:20 a.m. and I hadn’t anticipated all the roadblocks.
I marched through the airport, suitcase in tow, denying myself the thought that I might not make it. As the time on my phone changed to 6:05, my brisk pace became a jog. I darted through the crowds, desperate to find my gate.
By the time I did, no one was there. No one waiting to board, no one at the front desk, just a lime green sign for Aer Lingus — my airline — all by its lonesome.
“This isn’t right,” I thought. “It’s not 6:20 yet. Maybe I got the gate wrong.”
A short search later, I found a glaring screen packed with flight times and gate numbers. My condemnation was tucked into a corner next to the words, “Rome (FCO).”
“Gate closes 5:55,” the words shone in scarlet letters.
I couldn’t believe it. I never had a chance. For a moment I felt completely helpless. The red words began to make my eyes sting. Simultaneously, everything felt unreal and too real.
And then it started. I felt my body begin to tense up. The wettening in my eyes couldn’t be controlled. My breath became shallow and shaky. I missed my flight. I screwed up. I didn’t know what to do. And I was having a panic attack, alone, in the middle of Dublin Airport.
So I did what I do in any emergency. I called my stepdad.
“Emma. Emma. Emma. Emma. Emma,” my stepdad said. His sleepy voice over the phone became a metronome trying to calm me down, but I was near inconsolable. Don’t count on me for your post-apocalypse team, because when it comes to emergencies, I’m about as useful as a spork.
My stepdad waited patiently for me to calm myself. He proceeded to tell me I needed to find someone who worked for Aer Lingus and ask for help.
“Thank God my mascara is waterproof,” I thought as I approached the Aer Lingus help desk. I spoke to a tall flight attendant with thick makeup and a thicker German accent about how I had missed my flight, slightly choking up when I said I didn’t know what to do.
She led me out of the gate and pointed me in the direction of the customer service desk. There, a friendly, short Irishman helped me land a seat on the next flight to Rome, which wasn’t until nearly 4 p.m. It was seven in the morning.
I spent the next eight hours in a Dublin Airport cafe, sipping on hot chocolate, eating fancy pastries and watching “Buzzfeed Unsolved” on my new MacBook.
In order to avoid another breakdown, I got to the gate well before boarding had started. Things were going to be fine.
“I better go ahead and get my passport out,” I thought to myself.
I reached into my brown leather bag. My hand felt plenty of notebooks, pens and miscellaneous travel-size items, but it didn’t feel that little navy book on which my life depends.
And then came the second panic of the day.
“It’s probably just on the bottom somewhere,” I told myself. But as I pulled out chapstick after compact after tampon, it became clearer to me that my passport was gone.
I held my face in my hands, feeling like the universe had something against me, feeling like I couldn’t do anything right, feeling like this whole trip was a bad idea.
“Emma Sulski to the front desk,” an Irish accent said over the intercom. “Emma Sulski to the front desk.”
As I shamefully walked to the boarding desk, an Aer Lingus worker shook a little blue book in his right hand.
“T’is yours?” he said. “Somebody left it at security.”
“Oh my God, yes! Thank you!” I said. I felt a wave of relief better than any pastry I had that day. The worker rolled his eyes at the overt American mess that I was and said we’d be boarding shortly. But I didn’t care. I had my passport back.
“The universe isn’t against me,” I thought. “It just loves to screw with me.”
I boarded the plane. I plugged in my earphones and listened to “The Big Roar” by the Joy Formidable. I gazed out the window at the Celtic clouds and fell asleep by the third song.
When I woke up, I was in Rome.
I hailed a taxi, and after a 45-minute ride, we pulled up to the gate of the John Felice Rome Center. I made it. I missed the orientation, but I made it.
After a SparkNotes-style orientation from a student life assistant named Nico, I was shown to my room and met my roommate, Batoul, who’s way cooler and funnier than I am. We joked about the weird showers they have here and our shared love of the show “Supernatural.”
The next week was filled with Italian cuisine, painfully early mornings, exhausting travel and lengthy classes. Saturday began with Italy’s perhaps best-known landmark — The Colosseum. But that was nothing compared to Sunday’s day trip to Villa d’Este — a gorgeous 16th century castle complete with 51 fountains and 64 waterfalls, all shrouded in finely trimmed greenery.
In a few short days, I’ve had some of the best food I’ve ever tasted. The pear pasta at Osteria dell’Anima was particularly life-changing. The people here live and breathe salami, which is sold in every restaurant, deli and vending machine. The pizza dough is so soft it must have been kneaded by angels.
Though I haven’t been here long, I can see Rome is an invaluable culmination of thousands of years of culture with a story beneath every cobblestone, history behind every wall and Nutella in every pastry.
It can be daunting to begin adventures when the probability of obstacles is more so inevitable than possible. In my 21 years of walking this world, I’ve learned to develop a Murphy’s Law mentality when traveling. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
But the world makes up for it. It makes us take wrong turns so we can encounter the meadows we never would’ve seen on the main road. It pairs us with taxi drivers that don’t speak a lick of English so we can practice our two semesters of a foreign language. It makes us miss our flights so we can appreciate the destination when we get there.
And honestly, it’s so worth it.