29 July, 2011

Tenterhooks- a True Story

If a person is on tenterhooks, they are in a state of uneasy suspense or painful anxiety.  This originates from the hooks or bent nails that hold cloth stretched on a tenter (thank you, dictionary.com).  On a side note, a tenter is a frame that cloth is stretched on so that it dries evenly.

The reason I bring up tenterhooks is because I was thinking of the excitement of getting ready to come over to London.  I know that you have packing to do, flatmates for find, money to sort out and summer jobs to wrap up, too.  But I remember being in your position.  With all that going on, I just wanted to get on the plane and come over to London!  My anxiety wasn't painful and there wasn't really any uneasy suspense, but I was waiting impatiently for that departure date to arrive.  I was so ready to be in London!

Everything I'm about to relate truly happened.  You can ask my mom.

There are only a few highlights of my own departure and arrival in London as a study abroad student that flash across my memory.  I knew what I wanted to pack, and I had everything laid out in organized piles in my room at home.  Of course I knew that they needed to be in a suitcase to get them over to London, but there they sat in my room until around 2am the morning of my flight (I think I was leaving O'Hare around 10am to connect to my transatlantic red-eye from Newark later that day) when I panicked and chucked my neat piles into my duffel bag and backpack.  I think I spent a lot of time sitting on my duffel, struggling to get it closed, and not a single moment of that night sleeping.  Another memory was my arrival at O'Hare.  My mother came with me to the check-in desk, and while I was waiting I was going through the checklist I had been sent.  I had my acceptance letter to show at the border, but I had completely forgotten to ask my parents to write me a letter of support to say that they would help me financially, if I needed.  So, very quickly, while waiting to check-in, my mom scrawled a note on the back of Bill's big summer quiz, which used to be posted to students in a big pack of papers (only some of the questions have changed in the last decade), to say that she wouldn't let me go broke while abroad.

This next bit now causes me to shudder, since immigration is now a large part of my job.  When I arrived in London I hadn't really slept on the flight and I hadn't slept a wink the night before, so I was perhaps a little loopy from lack of sleep.  One thing I do know, there were two border agents at the desk I approached, the trainer and the trainee.  As a result I received a thorough questioning from the trainer who seemed to be setting an example.  I was baffled when I was asked my mother's maiden name, because she didn't change it when she got married.  Then, more importantly, they asked me how much money I had.  That was a much easier question, knowing the contents of my pockets.  "$5," I said.  "$5?" he asked.  "Yes," I said.  No problem, I hit that one straight out of the park.  He just stared at me.  "Anything else at all?" he asked.  "Nope," I said, still batting 1,000.  "You're telling me that you've just flown over from the USA with an empty bank account and no credit or debit cards?" he asked.  "Oh.  Of course I have those.  I thought you wanted to know how much cash I had on me."  Batting 500.  And I completely forgot to show him the note from my mom (though the state of it would probably just have attested to my disorganization even more).  Batting 0.  He rolled his eyes and stamped my passport, and I entered the UK.  In my defense, I hadn't had much sleep, but I'm not here to make excuses for my moments of delinquency.  I was a bit of a numpty that morning.
Me as a study abroad student.  I'm the one in the middle
The moral of my story is this: no matter how ready you think you are, get some rest and don't panic.  The upside is that I'm able to bring experience to my job. 


PS- I'm pretty sure it's not usual to be asked your mother's maiden name at immigration.

1 comment:

  1. You should start telling students to make sure they're ready for mugshots every time they travel a la Casey Thomas.