And Back Again

Palmerston North, NZ
On Monday, I packed up my dorm room into my two pink suitcases. Everything fit just perfectly, even though I’ve accumulated quite a collection of T-shirts, Salvation Army finds, and other souvenirs. I actually left three pairs of shoes behind, which gave me some extra room in my bags: New Zealand wears your shoes out! Since Sunday night, the international students have been slowly leaving Massey University, and I was able to say goodbye to most of my friends before I left. Some are travelling for a few weeks before they head home, others are going home soon. I’m the first American to head home, and I’ve really gotten some tough comments from some of the more adventurous (and quite possibly wealthy) Americans about being so excited to leave. (“Why are you so excited to leave this beautiful country?” “You should travel more before you leave! Live a little!”) These comments usually come from people who don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend back home, aren’t particularly close to their family, and still have plenty of money to spend. (I’m not sure how that’s possible!) Don’t get me wrong; leaving is bittersweet. I’m definitely going to miss the friends I made here, the Bankstons and Harvest Baptist, the adventures I had, and New Zealand’s natural beauty, but I’m also ready to be back home where I belong.

Ella, Brittany, me, and Erin 
Tuesday afternoon, Erin Bankston picked me up at my dorm, and we met her parents in town for a farewell dinner at Gengy’s. Gengy’s is an Asian buffet where you fill up a bowl with the meat, noodles, veggies, and sauces you want, and the chefs cook it right in front of you. It was delicious! For dessert, they have pancakes topped with ice cream and all the fixin’s. We had a great time, and afterwards we went back to their house. The Bankstons love musicals (almost) as much as the Phillips family, so we decided to watch The Music Man, which is one of my favorites. I spent the night on Erin’s trundle bed, and we stayed up way too late chatting and giggling. Wednesday morning, I had breakfast with their family. While they eat breakfast, they always play a game similar to “Trouble” with marbles, and they let me join in on the fun. I must have had beginners luck, because I won! Erin went to work, and I spent the rest of the morning hanging out with Mrs. Bankston and Callie, the dog. At around 11:00, we loaded up the minivan and drove to the airport. Even Brittany and Ella came with us to see me off. My flight left Palmerston North at around 12:30 and arrived in Auckland about an hour later. The view from the flight was beautiful! Everything was so green, and it was pretty neat to see the snowcapped mountains peeking through the clouds.

Auckland, NZ
I had a six-hour layover at the Auckland Airport, which was okay. The international terminal has a lot of shops to look through. I spent over an hour going through every store in the airport looking at jewelry, clothes, perfume, and makeup I can’t afford. (But honestly, I haven’t worn makeup on a regular basis for a long time, so I really don’t need the expensive stuff. I just want it sometimes.) I only bought one thing the whole time: a package of 1Above. It’s an electrolyte drink that’s supposed to help you avoid any jetlag. I’m supposed to drink it every two to three hours on the plane and keep drinking it until it’s gone after the flight. Bro. Jason Young recommended it, and I’m excited to try it and see if it works for me! (It did! I had barely any jetlag!) I had lunch at Burger King because it was cheap, and I called my mom for a while. Even after all that, I still had a little less than four hours to kill. Without wi-fi. (I know! How on earth did I survive?!?) I spent most of it writing this blog post and people-watching. (Airports are the best place to people-watch! You just never know what you might see.)

I was sitting at the gate waiting to board the flight to LAX, when something bright orange caught my eye. I looked up, and a couple had just walked by with a Tennessee Volunteers bag. So I, being Lucinda Phillips made over, went up and talked to them. It was a couple about my parents’ age. They have a son who’s a senior architecture major at UT, and they live not too far from Murfreesboro. The man was an architecture student at UT from ’80-’85, and the lady studied business at MTSU. Of all people to run into at the Auckland Airport! They had been on vacation in the South Island for a few weeks, so we spent about half an hour talking about our travels, school, and some Tennessee football. It was so neat to get to meet them! Go Vols!

My last of view of The Land of the Long White Cloud
Los Angeles, CA
The twelve-hour flight from Auckland to LA wasn’t terrible. At first, I was in a full row, but the guy in the middle seat got up to sit somewhere else, so the Danish girl on the end and I were able to stretch out a little. I don’t sleep well on planes, so I spent most of it watching a movie or two. (Like Inside Out. It’s so cute!) I was able to get just a little bit of sleep before they served breakfast in the morning. Speaking of which, airplane food always gets a bad rap. But, I thought the dinner and breakfast that Air New Zealand served were pretty great. (Maybe I was just really hungry.) After ages flying over the dark ocean, the sun finally popped over the horizon in time for me to catch a glimpse of California. While I’m not a huge fan of LAX nor do I find Los Angeles particularly beautiful or anything, it did feel nice to know that I was (almost) home. It took almost 45 minutes for everyone’s bags to arrive at the baggage claim, and after finally getting my two hot pink suitcases, I went through customs. I’m a little upset that they didn’t stamp my passport when I arrived; I was looking forward to having another stamp to add to my collection of Aussie and NZ arrival stamps.  The man who should have stamped my passport asked me where I was from, and he actually went to school at Cumberland University in Lebanon and knew exactly where Carthage was. It’s such a small world!

Chicago, IL
The flight from LA to Chicago wasn’t terrible, at least until the very end. I sat with these two really nice ladies from Michigan, and we chatted almost the entire time. About an hour away from Chicago, we ran into a huge storm that basically ruined the rest of my journey. My flight from Chicago to Nashville was cancelled almost as soon as I got to the airport, and when I booked another flight to Louisville, it was cancelled, too! When I thought I had it figured out with a flight to Knoxville, they delayed it, and delayed it again all the way to 1:30 AM before they cancelled it. Ultimately, I ended up on a flight to Atlanta because I didn’t want to have to wait until Thursday afternoon to fly to Nashville. The super-helpful lady at the United Airlines desk booked it for me and even had them hold the plane for me. I ran (literally) all the way to the terminal, while talking with my dad on the phone (using expensive NZ roaming minutes because I hadn’t switched my SIM  cards back yet) about what was going on. I made it, and then we sat on the runway for 45 minutes in line to take off. The flight to Atlanta was one of the roughest flights I have ever been on! The turbulence was terrible, and it didn’t help that I starting to get very tired and frustrated because I wasn’t home when I had planned. (I’ll admit I was kind of emotional when I first got on the flight. I feel really sorry for the guy sitting beside me; I think I made him pretty uncomfortable. Whoops.)

Bonus stop: Atlanta, GA
When I got to Atlanta, I talked to the baggage people at the late night desk since I had no idea where my luggage ended up, and they tried their best to help me out. (I’m ashamed to say that I shed a few tears on them, too. I’m such a baby! The man said something about how I’d had a long day and that I looked worn out, and I just started crying. Then I cried more when they told me how much a ticket to Nashville would be. The lady was really sweet; she came around the counter and gave me a hug and told me everything was going to be okay.) They told me that United would most likely cover the cost of the Delta flight to Nashville, which saved me close to $500. I spent a few hours sitting in the airport waiting on the ticket desks to open. I really wish I was one of those people who could sleep anywhere, but I’m not, plus I’m the world’s lightest sleeper. At this point, I was incredibly tired. I started to get frustrated because things did go according to plan; for one, I should have already been home, seen Ben and my family, and fallen soundly asleep in the comfort of my own home. I hadn’t had any real sleep for over 24 hours, nor had I had a shower in a while, and I wasn’t looking forward to waiting in the airport all night, even though there were heaps of people doing just that. I found me a nice, safe corner in the limousine pick-up area and made camp.

At around 3:00 AM, I finally realized that wallowing in my self-pity wasn’t going to change anything. Honestly, I have it way better than I deserve. The only reason I’m hanging out in the airport is because I am fortunate enough to have a morning flight home; not because I have nowhere else to go on a rainy night. I saw some people there who might have spent the night in the airport because they don’t have a home. While they may be truly hungry, when I haven’t eaten in like four or five hours, I want to complain. Even though I’m not where I want to be right now, I have so much to be thankful for. Materially speaking, I’m writing this blog on a MacBook Pro, wearing nice clothes, carrying a North Face backpack, and more often than not, I never go hungry or go without a good night’s sleep. By many people’s standards, I’m very wealthy. Now for what matters: I have an amazing God who has blessed me beyond measure, incredible friends, the best boyfriend in the world, and a family back home that supports me (although they were no doubt a little worried with my flight conundrum), not to mention some great church families that pray for me. (I consider myself an honorary member of Harvest Baptist in New Zealand.)

I checked into my flight a few hours early so I could explore the airport for a while. I ended up having Dunkin Donuts for breakfast at around 5:30, and that was my first purchase in the States with American money. (It’s so nice not to have to constantly think about the exchange rate every time I want to buy something. I was able to leave Atlanta at around 9:00 EST, sat on the runway for half an hour, and arrived in Nashville at around 9:00 CST.

So excited to finally be heading to Nashville!

My boyfriend Ben met me at the airport and seeing him for the first time in over four months was amazing! I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole day! We left the airport and went to Chick-fil-A for breakfast, with sweet tea. Then, we went back to my house and saw my mom. I fell asleep in the recliner for an hour or two before Julie and Olivia got home from school, and then we all had a steak dinner once my dad came home from work. There were hugs all around, and the general consensus was, “You’re not allowed to leave for that long ever again!” I’m so glad to be home, and I’m very excited to have two months off from school. I’ll be working for the next two months, both at the pharmacy and as a substitute teacher. In January, I’ll head back to Knoxville for the semester, but I don’t want to think about that just yet. Until then, I’ll be spending my time with my family, friends, and my church family that I missed so much. I’m just so happy to be back in Tennessee!

I’d like to thank everyone so much for all the prayers and support that you’ve given me for the past few months. God really has blessed me through this opportunity, and I know that your prayers had a lot to do with that. I hope y’all enjoyed keeping up with my adventures on my blog, and I’m so thankful for the ability to share my life with y’all!

I got to eat lunch with these amazing ladies on Friday. I missed y'all so much!!


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