Emily Schaldach is a student at the University of Colorado Boulder and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Cusco, Peru.
My mom always tells me, “Emily, keep your wits about you.” I arrived in Cusco and as I waited at the baggage claim, I had a sinking feeling as most people hauled their bags off the carousel. At this moment, not only did I not have my “wits about me,” but I also did not have any bags other than one small carry-on backpack, mostly full of books for the plane. I left Denver about 24 hours before and the women at the Lufthansa check-in told me I would need to recheck my bags in Mexico City. This was all fine and good until three different airport staff in Mexico City told me there was a new policy, and I did not, in fact, need to re-check my bags. Somewhere along the chain of airport staff, I assume, someone did not get the memo about this supposed new policy and my bags were left by the wayside.
Ensue: three days in Cusco with one pair of pants and lots of nervous energy about where in the world my things were.
However, I learned three things from this experience:
1. Be proactive and advocate for yourself—also bringing spare clothes and toiletries with you is no joke.
As soon as I arrived in Cusco, I spoke with the ISA staff and filed a baggage claim with Avianca Airlines. I took inventory and I had brought one extra shirt, one extra pair of underwear, one extra pair of socks, and some toiletries. When I was packing I had taken out some spare clothes I initially packed in my carry-on bag, assuming I would certainly not be the one to lose my bags. Lesson learned: don’t take the extra clothes out of your carry on. After 24 hours of no news about my bags, I tried the online luggage tracker. To my dismay, my bags had not even been identified. I checked the online tracker repeatedly, worked with my host family, and did what I could without the ability to call internationally. As my nervousness grew, I talked to my mom and asked her to call the airline, since I do not have international calling in Cusco. She was able to recruit a Spanish-speaking friend who learned my bags were in Lima (I didn’t even fly through Lima – I still have no idea how they got there) and they were in the hands of the airport, not the airline. She asked that they be pushed to the earliest flight, and fortunately, they arrived the following day. Sometimes it takes not only ISA staff, but parents, friends, host parents, and lots of determination to get the information you need. I had to be willing to ask for help and persist in the hunt for my baggage.
2. It is all going to be okay. Lots of people are here to help.
I borrowed a shirt from my housemate, and numerous people offered me extra clothes, jackets, and assistance. Even though I had just met these kind people, I had to accept the help and not try to do it all on my own. After two days of settling into having very few belongings, I also learned how few things I actually need to be okay. Even in a new country, surrounded by change and uncertainty, I had shoes on my feet, a bed, a good book, meals, and a toothbrush. I was calm, and everything really was okay.
3. The city and people and language and food and mountains are all here– even if my bags aren’t.
When my bags arrived on the third day, I was relieved, and quite frankly, blown away at how much stuff I had brought with me. I only had 90L of clothes/jackets/shoes etc, but it suddenly seemed like excess. While changing into new pants was undoubtedly refreshing, I saw the 10 shirts I brought and it felt like about eight too many. Now that I have settled in, I appreciate what I brought, but I have realized that there is value in simplicity, and as long as I have basic support and people who care about me, I really don’t need too much.
The world awaits…discover it.