May 16th — My suitcase was packed, my fuzzy socks placed in an accessible part of my carry on, my ticket was printed and my passport was neatly stowed in my wallet. I was all set to fly out to France and spend the next three months studying abroad in Metz.
As a typical paranoid traveler, I arrived at the airport three hours early dressed in my over-sized Georgia Tech sweatshirt so that the other students on my flight would easily find me. I passed the time Googling what Metz, my new home, looked like until I met up with a few other students.
We conversed for a while, discussing our majors, what classes we were going to take, where we wanted to travel, even the absurd amount of luggage we girls managed to pack. When they finally called our zone, we shot up from our seats and quickly rushed to the front of the line. As I handed them my passport and ticket, a smile shot across my face.
It was finally here. I was finally departing to France, about to embark on a…
“When are you leaving France miss?” the customs lady interrupted as her eyes scanned up and down my passport.
My smile suddenly dropped. “August 5th” I replied.
“Oh no. Please step aside ma’am,” she said.
And that’s where it began– the longest and most stressful 48 hours of my life. You see, where a typical expiration date signifies when your passport will become invalid, the same rule does not apply for France. My passport was set to expire in October of 2016 but French law requires that it must have an expiration date of at least 3 months after your return flight in order to enter the country. I was one month short.
As I was taken aside my smile turned to a horrified look of panic and the shaking began to set in. What was I going to do? How was I going to get to France? Where was I going to get a new passport? How was I going to tell my parents I missed one of the most important details when planning my trip.
Fortunately enough, the woman at the gate explained to me that I would still be able to fly out tomorrow night; I would just have to go the United States Customs House in Philadelphia to get a passport the next morning.
So 6am came and my mom and I were up, out of bed, on our way to Philadelphia, ready to be the first in line. The process, while stressful and filled with anxiety, was easier than expected. I was at the airport by 3pm and this time when I handed over my passport I was not met with a look of pity but a look of boredom as I was waved through to the plane.
I had made it onto the plane. Now I just had to make it to Metz. I would no longer be met by Georgia Tech students holding a sign saying “Shuttle B” or a huge hug of excitement from my friends on the bus. I was alone.
Fortunately, another student, Frank, had also missed his flight and was flying in around the same time as me. Together, we were able to navigate the French public transportation system.
It was a process though–a long and tiring process. We had to drag all of our luggage through the airport in order to make it to the train station, and finding where to buy the tickets was a struggle. When we finally purchased our tickets there was an evacuation of the area due to suspicious abandoned luggage. Police, heavily armed security, and dogs entered the area. This was just what I needed to calm my nerves. Now I didn’t even know if we would make it on our train. How were we going to make it to Metz?
Thankfully, the threat was lifted and we were allowed to go back down to the train station about 20 minutes before our departure time. Then we had to find our train to Lorraine. Then we had to find our seat on the train (which believe it or not is harder than it looks when the tickets are all in French). Then we had to take a bus to Metz. Then we had to take a taxi to GTL. Finally we had made it. Somehow, we managed to do this all on a few hours of sleep and a few phrases of French. Thank goodness Frank was there with me to calm my nerves over being in a foreign country alone and commiserate over our unfortunate luck. Who knows where I’d be without him?
When I entered the GTL building, exhausted and hungry, I was met with laughs and hugs from a few friends. While they had all had a good night’s rest, filling breakfast, and an information session to describe what to expect at Georgia Tech Lorraine, I was tired, sore, in need of a shower, and just thankful to be in the correct country.
Later that night my friend Mirna and I began planning our trip to Prague. We were set to fly out in two days, and we had nothing planned except the flights.
“Ugh! How are we going to get to the airport?!” she asked.
“Don’t worry,” I muttered, “I’ve got that covered.”