Air Canada: the long, long flight

img_0997When I was looking for tickets to get back to Boston I looked at the price and dates, and Air Canada turned out fit my criteria the best. I have never traveled with them before, so I didn’t know what to expect. Well, I was certainly surprised. 

Pre-flight

One thing that surprised me was that I could not check-in online before the flight. I understand that it is probably because of increased security, and even though you usually can’t check into flights to America, it still surprised me. That’s because you couldn’t even choose your seat online. It was a little like stepping back about 10 years, before online check-in and seat selection was an option. At the airport everything was fine. Of course lines were longer at check-in, because everyone had to check-in at the counter, instead of just dropping off their luggage.

At the Prague airport I had my very first experience with the e-gate passport control. I heard horror stories about people getting stuck between the gates, the camera not recognizing their faces and all sorts of other great anecdotes. So, as I was nearing the e-gate, Alena told me she would stand right there and watch as I embarrass myself. So much faith in me… 😀 I managed, without getting stuck and on my first try!   

Flight

The flight itself was fine. It was a 9 hour long day flight, so boredom comes naturally with this. However, boredom hit earlier, faster and harder than usual, but I will talk about that later. There were a couple of turbulences, but nothing the airline can affect. Somehow, I became the translator and the short-flight-connection coordinator/expert, when Czechs all around me started asking me to either translate the safety briefing or customs forms.

The service was nice. Only one flight attendant made me feel like I was bothering her when I asked for the English version of the customs form instead of the French. Other than that, the flight attendants were very nice!

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Gluten-free food is always a bit of a problem. However, I actually had really good chicken on this flight, it wasn’t completely dry and tasteless! Shocking, I know! One thing I don’t understand is why I always get pretzels as a snack at the beginning of the flight. I wish I could get something else to nibble on. Oh well.

In-flight entertainment

Where do I begin. There were no screens. You could rent an iPad from the airline for $10 or download the app. However, if you are going to do something like this, there should be a sufficient amount of warning! Shoot us an email, saying something like “hey, there won’t be any in-flight entertainment, so bring a book or a magazine. Make sure you download the Air Canada app, so you can enjoy some in-flight entertainment. Thank you and goodbye.” But no, instead, halfway through boarding, they announce over the intercoms, hey so if you have internet on your phone or your tablet, download the app for in-flight entertainment. Except guess what, not everyone has internet in their phone, a lot of people are traveling internationally, so naturally they don’t want to pay the extra money on data. And if you are leaving the country, chances are you are out of data! So please, Air Canada, don’t assume, and warn your passengers that the flight isn’t flying in this century and that for the 9 hour flight you will only have your thoughts to distract you.

I wrote half of this article on the plane ride, when I was very bored and a little mad. I was quite happy with Air Canada, but I do wish that for the price of that ticket, I could have had free in-flight entertainment. That might just be me. It is a good airline and I did like this connection! Just make sure you bring things to do!


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5 hours at the Frankfurt Airport

When traveling back to Boston, I had a 5-hour layover in Frankfurt. This gave me plenty of time to walk around and see what this airport is about. My gate was Z50, so right after landing from Prague I headed for that area of the airport.

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The Frankfurt airport is huge, which means it looks extremely empty. At one point, it looked like I was completely alone. That didn’t bother me, I prefer the emptiness over crowded airports, where you constantly crash into somebody, because they are standing in the middle of the hall.

One thing did bother me at the airport, though, the WIFI. Everywhere they advertised free WIFI, but those signs mostly just mocked me. For the first two hours of my layover I could not connect to the WIFI on my iPhone or my laptop. Finally, I managed to sign in and register for 24 hours. I was just thinking that the five hours would not be that bad, when the WIFI cut out for the first time. I spent the rest of the layover trying to reconnect to the internet, hoping I could entertain myself with something more than the few people around me.

 

I was also hoping for more shops,IMG_6478 where I could just buy a drink or a small snack. I wandered around for quite some time, but found nothing, so I ended up going to McDonald’s. I was very disappointed with the service there. When I came up to the counter to order, the cashier seemed very surprised that I did not speak German. Maybe my expectations are ridiculous, but why does it surprise people that at an international airport there are customers who do not speak the local language? Somehow, I managed to order an iced coffee and I got the right order, but not without a lot of sass and attitude from the cashier.

After spending five hours at this airport, I decided to avoid it, at least for the long layovers. For short transfers I’m sure the airport is great. It is clear where you have to go, and even though the distances are long, I had no issues getting from one gate to another. But hours seem to drag at the Frankfurt airport, so if you are someone who needs a lot of entertainment, bring a buddy or a lot of books :)!


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How we flew with Ryan Air

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How we flew with Ryan Air

Our trip to London with Ryan Air was quite entertaining. True, we probably found it more interesting because of the coffee/sugar high, but even now, looking back, I laugh at the thought of the Ryan Air employee and their wonderful safety cards. We’ve done low cost airlines before, but this was our first trip with RyanAir. And we were not disappointed.

The journey started normally enough, we went through passport control and security checks to our gate, where we waited. After quite some time, two buses arrived and took us to the airplane. Like I said, everything was normal. Once I got used to the fact that there is no seat pocket in front of me, things were good. They actually started looking up when we had the three seats all to ourselves.

The first sign that things were, let’s say, a little different was the grin on the flight attendant’s face as he tried not to crack up during the safety briefing. I understand that after doing the briefing so many times, the seriousness of it might not be so clear. And I know that I shouldn’t judge since I haven’t actually paid attention to this procedure in years, but is it appropriate to laugh while showing where the emergency exits are? Probably not, but like I said, who am I to judge?

When everyone finally buckled their seat belts and cross check was completed, we took off.
Only once we were in the air did we notice the one of a kind safety card on the seat in front of us. Since pictures are worth a thousand words, here are the pictures we took of the card:

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Since this was a low-fare trip, you had to buy the food. When you buy cheap tickets and it’s a short flight, you usually don’t get food. But what struck us as a little strange was that they went around twice. First the flight attendant asked if we want food and the second time he asked if we want “fresh food”. Suddenly, we had serious doubts about they food they offered from the first cart.

Overall the journey was quite enjoyable. The service was pretty good and once the caffeine dissipated a little, we even stopped thinking everything around us was so strange. It was a smooth ride across the board and if you’re looking for cheap tickets to London, Ryan Air is definitely a great option.

If you want to know how the rest of our trip went, come back later this week!


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How to Become an International Student at a College in the United States of ‘Murica in 15 STEPS!

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Step 1: Researching Colleges – Though this is something all students have to do, it is even more difficult if you live in another country. This struggle comes in different degrees. The first degree is faced when you go to an international high school. In this case, there is some connection between the counselors and the colleges, which allows for much easier research. The struggle of the second degree is faced when you go to a local, public school in your country. In this case there are usually limited, if any, connections to colleges in ‘Murica. This means that you are left alone to survive through the entire research process. Living far away from the ‘Murican colleges also means that in most cases it is extremely expensive to visit the college. This way you cannot base your selection on personal experience, but rather on the experiences of others. Start preparing early and make use of the college search engines.

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Step 2: TOEFLS and SAT –In order to become an international student at a ‘Murican College, one must take a series of standardized tests. Not only does this include the SATs, which all applicants have to take, but it also the TOEFLS, which test your English skills. There are no, I repeat, NO exceptions, even if you have been speaking fluent English since you were two years old. Be prepared to learn many words that you will never see or use again.

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Step 3: Acceptance dance and partying (and popping champagne) – Once you have finally applied, you can get accepted. Acceptance to a foreign school (and especially to your first choice) is usually followed by a lot of bouncing, jumping, giddiness and yes, even dancing and partying. Some people go for the champagne (which is legal in most countries) and some people prefer to calmly share the news with their friends and family and sometimes (most of the time) post their success of facebook. Decide what fits you best and go wild!

pic4Step 4: “Picture Yourself” and other perks – Refer to point 2. Not being able to go to any of the events before arriving on campus is a little disappointing You cannot simply attend a “picture yourself” weekend. Also, you don’t get anything in physical form. Since shipping is pricy, many foreign students do not get to enjoy things like the Emerson Beanie or the Boston Strong t-shirts. Some of the letters/forms (yes even the acceptance letters) aren’t physically sent, because it is cheaper to do it digitally. Though we do receive some of these after arriving on campus, it would be nice to have something from your college before starting the school year. The sooner you come to terms with this truth the better.

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Step 5: Receiving I-20The I-20 form is the first physical thing we, as the international students, get. It is what we need to get our student visas to be able to actually go to the college. Along with this we receive the packet for internationals, where they outline the customs and possible differences between the foreign culture and the US culture. Though some of them seem kind of ridiculous, like “when someone asks you, ‘how are you’, they do not expect an actual answer or your life story”, some of the reading is actually helpful.

Tip: Guard your I-20 with your life! That piece of paper is very important!

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Step 6: Visa forms and procedures – Once you have received your (precious) I-20, you have to fill out all the necessary forms to apply for your F-1 visa, starting with the long, long, long questionnaire that every applicant has to fill out. There you have to write all the dates of entries and exits into the USA and all the different types of visas you have held in the past. You will also be required to answer if you plan to fund a terrorist organization, or bring drugs into the US. Yes, we don’t understand the point of these questions either.

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Step 7: Figuring out how to actually get to the college – Trying to figure out the simplest, cheapest and fastest way to actually physically get to your college can be quite challenging as well. You have many different options. Do you fly with Air France, even though they lost your luggage last time? Or is Swiss Air better, even though it doesn’t quite match your ideal schedule? If you fly with Lufthansa you will have a layover in an airport you have never been to! These, as well as countless other questions cloud your mind as you browse through the available flights. Make sure to book your tickets as soon as possible!

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Step 8: Packing and trying to fit the limit – Airlines have a limit to how much luggage you can have and how much each can weigh. For the economy class it is usually one luggage per person and each luggage 23kg (50lb). This is an issue. How do you pack everything you will need for the next year? How do you pack your entire life into ONE or two suitcases?? Simply impossible… You have to get creative; fill every nook and cranny in the suitcase, while also managing to stay within the weight limit. I guess it’s bye-bye to your diary from elementary school.

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Step 9: The actual trip to the college – Now that you managed to pack up everything, you have to get it across the seas and mountains. You arrive at the airport with one large suitcase, one carry-on and a backpack, hoping that somehow you will get through the TSA check points without anyone noticing you have too many and too heavy carry-ons. At the security points you have to take out the laptop, the liquids, the iPads, potentially jewelry, take off your shoes and jacket and then manage to quickly put everything back on (because you are kind of holding up the line) and get to the gate on time. How will you ever manage an hour-long layover in Charles de Gaul airport in Paris? No one really knows!

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Step 10: Meeting all the other internationals – Since you didn’t get to meet anyone from your college over the summer now is your chance to share stories with people like you and bond over your lack of understanding of the strange habits of this foreign land. Though at the beginning it may be a little awkward, soon enough you make friends for a lifetime. Though throughout the first couple of days most sentences you say begin with “in MY culture…”, soon enough you will find other topics to talk about.

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Step 11: Visa meetings and restrictions– Youhave had some fun, now you have to focus on some serious things, like the visas. It’s time to get your I-94, which proves that you entered the country with the right type of visa, and turn it in to the office of international affairs. You then listen to all the lectures on what you can and cannot do, which takes me to my next point: Restrictions! Not only do you have to fill out lots and lots of paperwork, but you also can’t have an internship unless you go through EVEN MORE paperwork and even when you do, you are limited to 12 months during your studies, which is next to nothing, especially compared to those who can get unlimited amount. This internship has to be related to your major in one way or another. Also, you can’t work off campus, why? Just cause….no reason given. I guess they found out that you came to the US specifically to steal the jobs of its people! Oh, and if you do get a job on campus, guess what? MORE PAPERWORK! Our advice: take a deep breath and move on to step 12.

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Step 12: Breakdown because of restrictions – Does this really need an explanation? Whether you like it or not, the stress of your visa status will catch up with you. To feel better, rant to and cry with other internationals that understand you. DO NOT turn to ‘Muricans. They will never get it.

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Step 13: Meeting the domestic students (the ‘Muricans, as they often call themselves) – For many of us this means meeting our roommate and potentially the rest of our suite. This can be awkward. You are already accustomed to the flow of the college, whereas the domestic freshmen just came and have a lot to get used to. You have to establish old friendships, while also starting new ones. This balance can be hard to accomplish, but sooner or later you will get the hang of it.

 

pic14Step 14: Coping with not understanding all the cultural references – You don’t want to look uncultured, but you can’t follow along, Lizzie McGuire simply didn’t make it to your home when you were a child. So how are you supposed to join in the conversation when it turns to these cultural references? This can sometimes make things difficult and might even make you homesick. You start missing your own childhood movies and TV shows and you realize that there isn’t anyone you can share these references with. Look for a resident of a country close to your own with which you might share these memories.

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Step 15: Learning how not to get offended by stupid questions –Is that next to Yugoslavia? Do you take camels to school? Some people might ask stupid questions which at first will annoy you and even offend you. You might think to yourself “how come they don’t know about my country? How come they don’t even know where it is?” However, later in the semester you will learn to ignore these questions and even jokes like “Czech it out!”. You still won’t think they are funny, but you have decided it’s not worth it getting mad over such small things.

CONGRATULATIONS! YOU HAVE FOLLOWED A LONG AND HARD WAY BUT YOU ARE NOW OFFICIALLY AN INTERNATIONAL STUDENT AT AN ‘MURICAN

Co-written by Cornelia Tzana and Pavlina Vecerova

Drawings by Cornelia Tzanapic16

 


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9 tips for train travel in the summer

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9 Tips for Train Travel in the Summer

 

train 1Everyone loves travelling by train. It’s easy, cheap and you don’t need a designated driver. Here are a couple of tips to make your travels even better, whether you travel alone or with your friends.

  1. DRINKS! – Always have enough drinks with you! You never know when the train will stop in the middle of nowhere, s o you have to hydrate the whole time.
  1. Entertainment – Whether your side is short or several hours long, make sure you bring magazines, a book or anything else that will make your journey more fun and distract you from the blistering heat.
  1. Get a seat! – Some train companies charge extra for a designated seat. Pay the extra money! Its more relaxing and at least you won’t have to keep moving out of people’s way when they walk down the aisle. Standing for the duration of a five hour journey isn’t fun either.
  1. Book early – If you will buy a seat, book early! Especially when travelling in groups, you don’t want to get separated.
  1. Try to sit far from families with little kids – The kids WILL have energy and WILL make it obvious to the whole train, so if you can, stay away from them and their inevitable sticky fingers.
  1. Noise Canceling Headphones – If you fear the families, bring noise canceling headphones. They won’t change the sticky fingers, but your music will drone out their high-pitched screams.
  1. Plan well, but be flexible – Know what time you will arrive, but know that thatrain3t could easily change. So be flexible with your plans and try not to get too frustrated when they change.
  1. Sit in the right direction – If you get motion sickness, don’t ravel backwards. If your bought seat is in the wrong direction, ask someone to change, it will save you a very uncomfortable ride.
  1. Air conditioning – Seems obvious, but pick a train company that has the AC.

Do you travel by train a lot? Do you use any of these tricks or are you planning to try them out? Let us know in the comments!


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How to become na International student at a college in the United States of ‘Murica in 15 steps