Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Getting to Globals

This post is long overdue.  First life was stressful and busy and overwhelming.  And then I was traveling with my students.  And then life was still stressful and busy and overwhelming, but for different reasons.  This week, finally, I feel I have the time to take to myself to write. 

So let’s talk about that student travel bit that I mentioned.

Once again this year, I took a team of students to compete at Destination Imagination Global Finals in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (You can take a stroll down memory lane and remind yourself about my first experience there by clicking here). 

This year, I had a new team of students.  There were 5 girls and 1 sixth grade boy in contrast to 4 seventh boys from last year.  “Unruly” was the term I used to describe last year’s team, and this year my group was anything but.  These kids are responsible, creative, and full of life.  They were all Globals veterans who knew what to expect from the week long competition and how to make the most out of their time there.

But first, we had to get there. 
And that turned out to be a little bit stressful this year.

The journey started in the Guatemala airport at 4:30am on a Monday morning.  We were traveling with 7 teams from our school and a total of 47 people.  Team managers (that’d be me) waited to gather entire teams together so we could then pass through customs and security.  Everyone on my team arrived and we got in line, passed the first checkpoint, and went down the stairs to customs.
…And we were met with the longest customs line I have ever seen at the Guate airport. 

We stood in it, and of course still had time to get to our gate, thanks to solid planning by our Regional Director of DI.  The moms and kids all got through customs with no problem. 

I, on the other hand, was another matter.  I slid the agent my passport and customs form, all smiles and confidence, and he looked up and asked me, “You don’t have another passport?” 
I looked at him, confused.  “Another passport?  No…just that one.” 

He flipped through the booklet again, then said to me, “But this one’s blank.  No stamps.  When did you arrive in Guatemala?” 

And suddenly my stupidity dawned.  My passport expired in March 2015, so I renewed it at the US Embassy here in Guatemala City.  The customs agent was looking at my brand new shiny passport.  And my old one, with its entrance stamps and my work visa enabling me to be in the country for more than 90 days, was sitting on a shelf back in my bedroom.  Completely useless to me.  Needless to say, my heart dropped into my stomach and I kicked myself about a hundred times for being the opposite of a responsible chaperone. 

Thankfully, there was a solution.  I was escorted to an immigration window where they were able to look up on the computer when I’d entered the country.  No such luck looking up my visa, so they sent me to the airport bank with an invoice so I could pay for each day past 90 that I’d been in the country.  $62 later (could have been worse), I had my receipt, had made my way through the long customs line again, and passed on to security.  I met up with my team at the gate and even had time to scarf down a bagel before we boarded the plane. 

In Dallas/Fort Worth, we had a short layover.  In just over an hour, we attempted to get 47 people through customs, immigration, baggage claim, and security…and then get to the complete opposite side of the airport.  Needless to say, we ran into stumbling blocks.  Our huge group separated into teams, so I was leading only ten people through the airport.  First our team waited 20 minutes for one girl and her mom to get through the line because their US visas were apparently different sizes.  Then we waited another ten minutes because a different mom confessed to having two apples in her bag and was pulled aside for the third degree.  Finally, after fifteen minutes on the Skylink shuttle to arrive at the correct terminal, we emerged in the hallway to the announcement, “Now boarding all rows all passengers for flight 74 to Atlanta.  All passengers on this flight should now be in the boarding process.”  My team picked up our pace and jogged to the gate.  We hurriedly told the gate agent that more people from our group were not far behind.  After affirming we were connecting from Guatemala, the agent told us she was still missing a lot of people from that plane and that they were checking to see if they could hold the flight.  As she said it, the man next to her hung up a phone and told us, “Nope.  They say they won’t hold the flight for 39 people.  Your friends have nine minutes to make the plane.” 

Thankfully, everyone made it on board, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief as the plane began its taxi with all of us present.
But the adventure didn’t end there.

From Atlanta, we were to catch a bus provided by DI transportation to get us to Knoxville, four hours away.  But as we emerged from the plane, our Regional Director was on the phone and in a frazzle.  Apparently there was a 5:00pm bus, and an 8:00pm bus, and nothing in between.  I looked at my watch.  4:54pm.  We still had to pick up our bags; there was no way we would make a bus that was leaving in six minutes. 

We were in the process of discussing our options—pick up bags first, exit the secure gate area, and be forced to wait three hours with minimal dinner options, or eat first and hope all our luggage would be waiting for us after a meal? 

Thankfully we were saved having to make this decision by getting confirmation that the bus would wait for us.  By the time we picked up our bags, located the bus, took ten minutes to visit the food court, and waited for another group from a different plane to share our bus, we were finally on the road a little after 6:00pm. 

The four hour bus ride was long and uneventful.  A little after 10:00pm, we arrived at the University of Tennessee,  waited for the other group to complete their registration, had a few snacks, and were finally at our hotel and in bed a bit before midnight. 

It was a long, stressful day filled with near-catastrophes.  Yet somehow, we all made it safe and sound and were able to enjoy a successful week at DI Global Finals.  

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