I still remember when I first stepped into the arrivals hall at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion International Airport. It was just past six in the morning and the airport was fairly quiet, being just past sunrise on an unremarkable Monday morning. I had just come off a pair of flights totalling twelve hours and spanning a full calendar day. I was more than 9,000 kilometres from home, more than ten times farther from my parents than I had ever been before. Coming to terms with the fact that this would be my reality for three whole months, I thought to myself: What on Earth am I doing here?
That was two years ago.
In retrospect, that was just how I felt on my first night in Baker; if I recall correctly, neither of my roommates had even arrived yet. But whatever slight concerns I had toward embarking on that new chapter quickly passed sometime early the following day. Now, I shudder to think of life before MIT, condemned to four years of state-mandated labour.
And the apprehension I had in Tel Aviv – that too has passed. Before, travelling abroad was breaching my comfort zone; now, being abroad is my comfort zone. Since then, I have travelled to around twenty countries on my own (I suppose if you're bored you can guess a few):
Now, I'm spending my third consecutive summer interning aboard and approaching the end of an eleven-month stint in the UK, this time working at an engineering firm in London designing airports. Over the past six weeks, I have been researching, simulating, and writing about airports all over the world – so far I have worked on projects in Ireland, Oman, Fiji, Ghana, Bulgaria, and the Maldives. Unfortunately, I won't be joining my co-workers on their exotic business trips, but I did get five paid vacation days (ahem, American companies, what's going on?). I used three of those days to go to Norway, depicted in one of the photos above; in the photo, I'm with my friend from Norway who I met two years ago in Israel!
As several of my friends know, I love airports – I have half a mind to spend thirty days in Heathrow and write a book about it (or shoot a documentary, a l√° 30 Days) – so this is essentially a dream come true. This experience also completes a span of organizations – in my three summers at MIT, I have worked at a university, a non-profit, and, now, a for-profit company. I still haven't interned in a government job (a viable career option in my field), but the breadth of internship opportunities so far has been invaluable.
And, of course, it doesn't hurt being in one of most cosmopolitan cities in the world. My five-kilometre commute to work takes a mere twenty minutes by bike, faster than the Underground and way faster than the bus. And along the route, when I'm not doing my best to avoid double-decker buses and inattentive taxi drivers, I'm treated to a tranquil route through Hyde Park and past Royal Albert Hall.
Another great part about being abroad is the milieu of people you meet and get to know. Most of my new friends from the past year are – brace yourself – British, but this summer, I'm sharing a flat with two Canadians, two Frenchmen (is that gender-neutral?), and a Spaniard. As a friend of mine said, it's like the G4 (except Spain's not in the G20, so it's not, but let's not nitpick).
New York is a great city, and there has long been a Battle of the Titans between the Big Apple and the Big Smoke (New York clearly wins in the nickname department), but it's just so far from everywhere else. By the time you get to Mexico from New York, you could have flown from London over fifty countries and just as many languages. It doesn't help either that getting into New York is so much harder; my Spanish flatmate is trying to get a long-term visa to the U.S. and the first question they asked him on the phone was "Have you ever planned to kill the president?" Seriously; who's going to answer 'yes' to that question?
I personally am close to Edgware Road, a street that has been nicknamed Little Cairo, Little Beirut, Arab Street... you get the point; perhaps akin to Chinatown in New York, the vast majority of people you see on Edgware Road are Arab. Nearly all the restaurants on the street are Arab, and many shops and banks – even British banks – translate their signs and notices into Arabic. Christian and Muslim evangelicals jostle for the same space outside the movie theatre, handing out promotional material in Arabic (but only, of course, if they think you can read it). And, the sidewalks are lined with tourists and locals alike smoking sheesha (although at London, not Cairo and Beirut rates).
I don't know what it is, but there's an authenticity in Edgware Road that doesn't exist in New York's Chinatown (oh, and let's not even talk about Boston's Chinatown).