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MIT student blogger Shuli J. '22

how to get to Boston by Shuli J. '22, MEng '23

the VERY HARD way

There are some things that only make sense to you once you’re living it, that you can’t understand until they happen to you. And then there are some things that, even while they’re happening, you can’t begin to comprehend. One such event was my trip across the Niagara Falls border-crossing passenger bridge with all my possessions on a hand cart.

*cliche mid-00s kids’ tv show record scratch* OK, so you’re probably wondering how I got here…

Like most MIT students, at the start of every semester I make my trip from distant lands to Cambridge, via Boston Logan Airport. I hold great fondness in my heart for that trip;01 Lydia wrote about this once, and just rereading it now stirs my heart: by the time I finished sophomore year, it had been made beautiful by familiarity. Tearing up a little as my parents dropped me off, napping the flight away, and the late-night suitcase-dragging walk through the airport, onto the MBTA silver line, to the red line, and all the way home…

Unfortunately, flying is not looking so hot right now. When I moved back to Cambridge this semester, my parents and I both agreed it would be better if I could avoid taking a plane. OK, so we’ll drive! Well, it’s not so easy, because nothing is easy these days.

Fact 1: my internship switched to being a Canadian internship when everything went remote, and as such I couldn’t leave Canada until it was over.

Fact 2: my parents would have to quarantine for 2 weeks if they left Canada to drive me to Boston.

Fact 3: the school semester started 1 week after my internship ended.

Conclusion: My parents could not enter the US with me.

Then I had a crazy idea. This was in late June, before any plans were made in earnest, and so it really was just a passing thought. One of my new housemates lives west of me, within the US; she was also hoping to drive to Boston instead of fly. “Hey Mom, wouldn’t it be so funny if I got Caragay to pick me up at the border and drive me to Boston?” “Haha, yeah, you could totally do that!”

Fast forward 6 weeks. Now it’s mid-August, and the situation is the same.

hey caragay what if you picked me up at the border

like at niagara falls

i could walk across the bridge


yo that would be fun!

And so a wild plan was set. I already knew that Niagara Falls has a pedestrian bridge that’s also a border crossing. Normally, it’s mostly used by tourists visiting the other country’s side of the falls; because of the pandemic, it was closed to everything except essential travel. (Which included “work or study”, and therefore, hopefully, me.) My parents could drive up to the Canadian side and park; only I would cross the border; and then my friend would pick me up on the other side.

Of course, I’m a worrier, and I got it from my parents. So we immediately started to overthink. What if they didn’t let me in at the border? How would I carry my suitcases all that way? What did the process even look like?

By the time September 4th, Judgment Day, rolled around, I had seen the seventeen-minute YouTube video my father made me watch of someone else crossing the same bridge; I had several types of coins in both currencies, in case the toll booth at the crossing rejected one for some reason; I had a folder with documents proving my citizenship, my enrolment at MIT, my within-72-hours02 As required by the Massachusetts Travel Order negative COVID test, and my Boston apartment lease agreement;  I had a hand cart we ordered from Home Depot to carry my suitcases. I was ready.

I was nervous as all hell.

That day, and the week of the Exodus in March, are the two most nervewracking moments of perhaps the last decade of my life. There were so many things that could go wrong, and I knew I could never even begin to plan for them all. So instead I stressed, all week, and all the day before, and all through our early-morning drive to Niagara Falls.

I’m no superstitious person, but I’ve always felt in life that if I can’t imagine something happening in the future — the fun trip that I got a stomachache right before, the boy I wished would like me back — maybe it’s not meant to be. I could NOT imagine this actually happening, and that only made it worse.

We did arrive, of course, as one tends to do when on a finite-length trip. We found (after much difficulty) the entrance to the pedestrian crossing. I hugged my parents, teared up, said goodbye. We took pictures. I paid my toll and started dragging my cart across the bridge.

And I still could NOT imagine it actually happening. Literally as I dragged the cart, felt and heard it bump along the concrete bridge, and saw the sun reflecting off the falls, I felt surreal and dissociated. Was I really bringing boxes full of stuff across Niagara Falls on foot to enter the US? Was I really moving to an apartment in Boston, to live fully independently with friends for the first time in my life, during a pandemic, during the first week of school? Surely it could not happen.

But it did. When I saw my friend, I screamed, and hugged someone who wasn’t related to me for the first time in five months.

I still can’t believe it’s happening, sometimes, now. When we returned to East Campus in a UHaul to pick up our furniture, when we sat together in our finally-furnished living room03 Those first few days when we owned literally no furniture were an interesting time... for the first time, when I look around my still-not-fully-furnished room,04 don't ask me about IKEA delivery :( when I pset right next to one of my housemates or we laugh over some dumb MIT in-joke together. I can’t believe I made this choice — but I know it was the right one. I have friends by my side who I can trust, in matters of health and safety, and of not letting dirty dishes pile up in the sink, and of psetting. We’re in this together, and although we’re not at MIT, we are a very small microcosm of everything that makes MIT so good. And we’re going to have an excellent semester.

  1. Lydia wrote about this once, and just rereading it now stirs my heart: back to text
  2. As required by the Massachusetts Travel Order back to text
  3. Those first few days when we owned literally no furniture were an interesting time... back to text
  4. don't ask me about IKEA delivery :( back to text