Exchange misadventures

Among the ups, the downs of studying abroad 

Supplied by Alan Wren

Alan Wren: Maastricht, Netherlands | Lara Liebovitz: Milan, Italy | Chloe Chan: Aarhus, Denmark | Spencer Belyea: Edinburgh, Scotland


Traveler: Alan Wren

Abroad in: Maastricht, Netherlands

Comm ’17

It all started on what was supposed to be a quiet final Saturday night in London, where I had spent the weekend visiting friends. 

I had an early flight the next morning, so the plan was to grab a few drinks and call it quits fairly early. But, one thing led to another and next thing I knew I was cabbing home in the early morning, more than a little bit tipsy. 

Fast forward a few hours and four slept-through alarms. I was still in London and my plane was long gone. Adding insult to injury, I discovered I’d lost my credit card at some point the previous night. 

I used my debit card to book a new return flight and, with a confirmation email received, I said goodbye to my friends and headed for Heathrow Airport. 

Upon getting off the metro at Heathrow and heading up the escalator, I checked my pockets only to realize my phone was no longer there. My only hope was to ask a metro employee to see if my phone was on the train at the next stop. 

I spent the next 10 minutes freaking out until, thankfully, I was told they had my phone one stop down the line. 

After this stressful detour, I headed to check in and put this whole experience in my rearview mirror. However, when I arrived at the check-in desk, I was informed that my flight booking did not go through, despite getting an email that said it had. 

So, not only did I not have a flight home, but I now had no way to access money — my debit card was blocked when I tried to purchase the new flight ticket. 

Sitting alone in Heathrow and about three seconds away from a full on mental breakdown, I got a message from my housemates back at Queen’s asking if I wanted to FaceTime. 

Now, the only positive of this story is that after hearing my dilemma my unreal housemate, Connor, offered to buy me a plane ticket back to Brussels. Quite a few hours later and a few more hundred dollars lighter than expected, I was on my way home. 

I landed late at night in Brussels to discover that the trains back to Maastricht, where I am on exchange, had stopped running for the night — not that I even had enough money to buy a ticket. But Connor saved the day once again and bought me a train ticket home for the next morning. 

The trains didn’t start running again until 7 a.m. and after the flight mishap I was worried about missing it. I avoided going to sleep and spent the next nine hours watching movies on my laptop. The next morning I headed to the trains, ridiculously ready to just get home  

I then discovered that my housemate accidentally booked a train from Brussels Central Station, not Brussels Airport — where I actually was — so I needed to buy a ticket to Central Station. However, thinking that my train was paid for, I had spent my last 10 euros on dinner the previous night. 

After asking complete strangers, I gathered the five euros needed to get to Central Station and I was on my way. All I had left to do was catch two connecting trains and I would be home. 

Now, keep in mind that over the entirety of this story I had gotten only a few hours of sleep. Of course, given the current state of my luck, I fell asleep on the train and woke up one stop past my connection. I figured I would be able to backtrack. 

On the way back, a ticket checker came by and she told me I had to buy a ticket for the one stop, despite me explaining my situation and informing her I did not have any money. 

Luckily, the man sitting across from me offered to pay for my ticket, or else I don’t know what I would have done. 

Fortunately, this time I stayed awake and made my connection. Finally back in Maastricht, almost a full 24 hours later than intended, my nightmare was over.


Traveler: Lara Liebovitz

Abroad in: Milan, Italy

Comm ’17

I was very selective when deciding where I would go on exchange because of my peanut/nut allergy. I had to stay far away from Asia due to the strong language barrier and because most dishes there are cooked with peanuts. Everyday would be a constant battle for a bite to eat. 

Coming to Milan, I was very careful about what was in the pastas and pizzas I was eating and definitely steered clear of gelato. I would inform the waiter of my allergy before ordering and they were typically accommodating. 

Milan is different from other Italian cities as most people don’t speak English there. Despite the language barrier, I learned how to say “I am severely allergic to peanuts and nuts” in Italian: “Sono gravemente allergico alle arachidi e noci.” 

In 20 years of having a peanut allergy, I have never had a reaction nor used an Epipen. 

One day in Milan, three friends and I went to bakery. The waiter hadn’t taken our order yet, but put down some bread and veggies to snack on while we waited. 

The bread was whole grain and appeared okay from the outside, so, I took a bite. I noticed a big, yellow seed in the middle of the slice, put the bread down and continued on with the veggies. 

After an amazing meal, the four of us went to the Sforza Castle. We hung out all day and as we were ready to leave — five hours post eating the mysterious bread — I began to feel sick. I started coughing, thinking something was stuck in my throat. 

As we went into the subway, I began to have a heat flash. My face got very red and I began to burn up. I was scared. 

We went out of the subway to get fresh air, but just as I started to feel better, hives began forming across my neck. 

My two new exchange friends began to worry. They asked me what I would typically do if this ever happened and I honestly had no idea. 

I began to look for a pharmacy for Benadryl but it being a Sunday everything was closed. After about 10 minutes the hives began to spread. 

At this point I started realizing it must be an allergic reaction. This seemed weird to me considering I hadn’t eaten for around five hours. I had been taught that if I were anaphylactic the reaction would hit me right after contact with the nut. 

My friend Amanda called an ambulance for me and it arrived within minutes. I was breathing the whole time and my heart rate was fine. They gave me adrenaline in the ambulance and my hives were gone soon after. I felt 100 percent better and was only sent to the hospital for a quick checkup. 

It may sound crazy, but I took this as a positive experience. Having never had a reaction before, I now know what it’s like. 

I also know to double check any bread before eating it because something so simple can be so dangerous. 

I was in a big city, with many hospitals within a few kilometers, doctors who spoke English and two amazing new friends who helped me when I needed it most. 



Traveler: Chloe Chan

Abroad in: Aarhus, Denmark

Comm ‘17

I came out of the flight bathroom from the back of the plane and carefully maneuvered my way to my seat. As I approached my row, a flight attendant captured my attention with her serious, stone-cold expression. 

“Come with me,” she mouthed out, as her hand gestured me to walk towards her. Puzzled and slightly intimidated, I followed her to just outside the cockpit.

“The old man sitting directly next to you,” she said, in a concerning tone. “He wet his pants. We have already perfumed the area and did our best to clean up.” 

I felt very sorry, yet I could not formulate a verbal response. Not knowing how to react appropriately, I stood there blankly like a deer in headlights.

“Would you like to move up to one of our first class seats?,” she asked. 

Pleasantly surprised, I immediately nodded. I walked back to my row and reached over the soiled aisle seat to swiftly gather my belongings. I never thought I would have the luxury of being in the first class cabin as a broke student. 

With only 15 minutes flying time left, the complimentary upgrade was a short lived but enthralling experience. I thoroughly enjoyed the gloriously spacious leg room, premium plush seat and extra friendly service. 

Needless to say, one man’s misfortune had an unexpected benefit for my travels.  



Traveler: Spencer Belyea

Abroad in: Edinburgh, Scotland

ArtSci ’17

Money, passport and phone.  

Those are three of the most important things to have when you’re travelling and I’d say in that order. Losing any of these three is panic-inducing and a great way to put a damper on an awesome trip.  

I was having fun in the Ukraine with over a week left to go on my travels and no return ticket booked when my phone died. No matter what I did, the only sign of life I’d get was the Apple logo tantalizing me for a few seconds before fading to black again.  

So, for my communication with the outside world, not to mention much of my entertainment, I was left with a fairly old and somewhat cranky iPad mini whose storage was so full that I soon didn’t even have enough space to take a picture. Yes, for a while I was that idiot taking pictures with his iPad. This was an acceptable substitute, but was rather unwieldy at times.  

To add insult to injury, a series of screw-ups left me with about 36 hours with nothing to do before leaving Lviv for Kiev. By the time I’d trudged through the pouring rain and collapsed on my bed in Ukraine’s capital, I was not in the best mood.  

Of course, that’s a great time to find out that your credit card has been cancelled.  I hadn’t used it much because I knew there was a chance of it being compromised. But even with being careful, it didn’t matter.  

So, I had to rely on cash. No problem, other than those pesky withdrawal fees. But relying on cash becomes a big problem when you only have 7 hryvnia, equaling less than 50 cents in your wallet and the first six ATMs you go to don’t accept your bank card.  

Finally, I found one that worked, but I became understandably paranoid for the rest of the trip. I’d find myself unable to withdraw money and be stranded with minimal cash in my wallet. In Moldova, it took me three tries before I was able to get money, so these fears weren’t unfounded. 

My phone dying and my credit card being cancelled within less than 48 hours of each other was not a fun experience. Luckily, the last of the holy trinity, the passport, held up its end of the bargain and is now home to a lot more stamps than it was a few months ago.  

Crazy stuff happens when you’re on exchange, but I’ve learned to take it in stride — it’s all part of the experience and you’ll be left with some great stories to tell.

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