I Dont Know What Ive Done or If I Like Who I’ve Become

Missy Higgins. A bit wistful and hopeful.

Flashback to driving around in high school listening to BSB at top volume. Which is mostly making the experience of navigating through and sitting at my gate waiting for my flight to the ME (Middle East) even more odd. This whole experience of being pulled out of the routine started at the gate in SLC. My flight was direct to Paris so there were a bunch of different languages being spoken, including a few lost North Caroliners whose flight had been delayed. Theres something about the homogeny of Utah that makes you very quickly notice the difference of people from “not here.” I dont know how to describe it any better than that. Its the difference in coloring, the difference in facial features, clothes, mannerisms  that just screams we arent in Kansas anymore. Perhaps when you live in a more cosmopolitan area these differences blend in more, but in Utah where so many people look the same, dress the same and seem to all be related to each other – differences stick out.

Just those few things immediately disconnected me from the world of midterms, and packing and eating Cafe Rio to a world much larger than I had previously been living in. I thought the nine hours of Silver Linings Playbook, Chasing Maverick and Battleship would be enough to adjust to a whole new world, but since I didnt sleep at all on board the loud screaming of the man on the other end of the row right before landing was still startling – he apparently was having a seizure. Another new experience – Ive never been on a plane with a medical emergency. Im pretty sure the flight crew was more freaked than the passengers. Fortunately multiple doctors on board, and things seemed ok- but again the medical personnel now spoke French and I recalled the little bit of high school French as the English-speaking doctor tried to explain to the French airport medical team that the German man had a seizure.

Even though in Utah I sometimes feel on the outside and not part of the culture, Im still an American, I speak English and I understand the rules of that world. Now even though there are signs in English, everyone speaks French and Im getting by mostly following gestures and my extreme familiarity with airport protocol that I hope still applies in other countries. Now Im sitting at the gate for my flight, and the flight before us is going to Kiev. So there is a mix of very blond, Europeans sitting next to dark-haired, hijab and sweatpants wearing Arabs. Every once in a while I get a whiff of what it smells like when we walk into the Middle Eastern store in Utah combined with the smell of human bodies . It smells… familiar. And to add to the mix of old and new there is a girl wearing a green Ralph Lauren sweater that I just gave away, and there were LDS missionaries on my flight to Paris. And one girl just asked to borrow my iPhone cord so she could charge her phone on my computer – shes going to the ME but lives in North Carolina. And it comes full circle.

Is this what the world is like when you leave home? This strange feeling that your world is slipping away with every accent, every exchanged smile with a stranger, with every decision about whether to try to ask for something in another language or just saying nothing and staying in English. And then its returned to you slightly changed like looking through 3D glasses. Youre not exactly sure what is real anymore, but right now Im both cautious and excited about it all.

Maybe Im actually home now.

Go to the Ends of the Earth For You

Ye olde ATM
Ye olde ATM (Photo credit: ~dgies)

Adele – cover of Make You Feel My Love.

Even though its a love song, Im going to talk about the mechanics of traveling abroad. In the olden days, when you traveled, you took traveler’s checks with you. And American Express made tons of money off all of us. By olden days, I mean when I went to China 12 years ago. Now, Visa and Mastercard debit cards have made it easy to access money all around the world. For a fee. And all your hard earned saved money for traveling to exotic locales is slowly eaten away by ATM fees and foreign exchange fees. There are a couple of ways to get around this – depending on where you are traveling.

Capital One credit cards do not charge you a transaction fee or exchange fee when you use it as a credit card. If you do cash advances, they charge a 3% fee. However, lots of places are still cash-based so you probably need access to real currency as well.

Charles Schwab Bank – no transaction fee or exchange fee when pulling money out of an ATM. They will also reimburse you any fees that other banks charge you for using their ATMs at the end of each month. You have to open a brokerage account in order to get a checking account, but there are no minimum requirements or fees associated if you do not use the brokerage account. There are also no minimums on the high-yield variable rate checking account. I just opened mine yesterday.

Other internet banks – Ally and some others – they also give you breaks on ATM fees. Not sure what the transaction fees are.

Local credit union – if you have a business account that you are traveling abroad with (a common problem for our non-profit) neither one of the above options will work. So we joined a local credit union. No fees charged by our bank, but a 1% transaction fee by Visa and then whatever the other ATM charges you. Its not that big of a savings, but its still better than using the large banks.

Citibank/HSBC – these are two of the largest international banks. HSBC has pulled out of a lot of countries recently, so check before you go, but these banks do not charge if you use their ATMs and they are the most likely to be in your international destination.

And of course traveler’s checks do still exist.

I will continue to be preoccupied with my travel plans until I get on a plane Wednesday and then get on another one Saturday to travel to Turkey. Im sure you didnt expect when you chose to follow this blog a travel commentary. But its about the life of this particular Black Mormon Female – and she is traveling. Im sure God will come back into it during my travels for the next six months. Especially given the part of the world I am going to. Ill make sure to post some exciting pictures. 🙂