When I signed up for a study abroad trip, I mainly only looked at what I would learn in terms of academics. It wasn’t until I was navigating the Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C. that I realized how much more there is to learn outside of a classroom while studying in another country.
My trip to Tbilisi, Georgia, is the first time I’ve been outside of the United States. I naturally tend to worry and stress an unhealthy amount over everything, especially when things do not go to plan, but going into this adventure, I told myself that things are going to go wrong no matter what. I can’t always control the situation, but I can control how I react to it.
I thought the most that would go wrong would be me getting lost in an airport—which did happen, the Charles de Gaulle Airport in France where I had my layover was very confusing. I didn’t think that my luggage would decide to take a multi-day layover in France.
I stood at the baggage claim waiting for my extremely heavy orange suitcase for almost an hour. My eyes were glued to every piece of luggage emerging from the back. And none of it was mine.
Did I almost cry in the Tbilisi Airport? Yes. I wanted to very badly. But I didn’t.
I pulled myself together and filled out a report at Georgian Airways’ lost and found, thinking I would get my luggage back in a day.
After a day when I didn’t hear from the airline, I emailed them to ask for an update. The American Councils staff also was in contact with the airline on my behalf. The airline told us that my luggage was coming on a flight landing in Tbilisi on a Wednesday morning, a full four days after I reported it missing.
Living out of my carry-on bag during this time was not my proudest moment. Re-wearing the same sweaty clothes and smelly socks each day just does not feel good. Luckily, I have an amazing host family. One of my host sisters lent me some of her clothes, and they let me use their shampoo.
The airline was supposed to drop off my luggage at my host family’s house on Wednesday while I was in class. They have both my number and my host mom’s number, but I wrote in my email to them that they should call my host mom because she stays at home during the day while I am in class and unavailable.
I got out of class on Wednesday to four missed calls from the airline. When I called back as I was walking home from Ilia State University, they told me that they never called my host mom, and since I never answered their many calls, the driver took my luggage back to the airport and I could come pick it up.
This phone conversation showed me that I have an assertive side. I refuse to be taken advantage of. I refuse to cower in the face of authority.
I refused to go to the airport to pick up my luggage. I questioned why the driver was not given my host mom’s phone number, as I specifically asked them to call that number. I told the airline representative that I expect the driver to bring my luggage to my apartment the next day.
When the representative said that they would ask the driver about coming back but would not be able to confirm that he would drop off my luggage, I said, “No, I expect it to be here tomorrow.”
I told the representative that it is extremely unprofessional and unacceptable for me to have to go without my luggage for over four days in a foreign country.
I was—and am still—proud of how I handled myself. And that was great practice for the next day when the airline called me while I was eating lunch. They asked if I could meet the driver somewhere because he couldn’t find my house.
The other girls on my study abroad trip gave me a thumbs up as I basically repeated my stance from the day before, saying that they need to talk to my host mom and that they really should be offering me some form of compensation for this headache.
While I couldn’t get the driver to my house myself, my host mom was able to call him and give him directions so that he dropped off my luggage and we never had to go pick it up at the airport. I’m thankful that I had people from American Councils and my host family supporting me so that I could have more than two pairs of socks to wear.
This situation is rare and frustrating, but it didn’t stop me from falling in love with Tbilisi and having a great first week on my trip. Honestly, I’m glad that it happened. I have not been in a situation where I had to stand up for myself and my well-being like that before. I’m a rule follower and I tend to just listen to whatever an authority position is telling me, so it was empowering to be able to say no, this airline is treating me poorly, and I’m not going to give into it.
I think this experience, even though it is on the surface negative, teaches practical life lessons that are crucial to learning while studying abroad. Figuring out how to adapt to a situation you’re not fully prepared for (whether it’s culture shock or not having pajamas to wear because you don’t have your luggage), and advocating for yourself and your needs.
With so much learning in and out of the classroom in just one week, I cannot wait to see what else I will learn over the next month.
By: Callie Anderson
Program: Peace & Security in the South Caucasus, Tbilisi, Georgia
Term: Summer 2019