A Hawaii Girl’s Guide to Long Plane Rides, Culture Shock, and Freezing Weather

As I looked at the social media pages with the latest Swarthmore acceptances, I noticed some future Swatties coming to Swat from the same place as me: somewhere in a tropical climate, thousands of miles from campus. I watched them comment on how they would freeze when they got to Swarthmore and I sat and agreed while also thinking, Oh, you haven’t seen anything. But when I look back, I realize that I also had the same naive thoughts as when I was accepted into Swarthmore. This article, dear reader, is a sort of survival guide for you and the many others who also come from a warm tropical climate thousands of miles from Swarthmore College.

First part: the plane ride

Start day. Everything is packed. You can see your parents driving you to the airport through the car window, waiting for the long flights ahead. You go through security and make your way to your gate. You are ready for it you think.

At least until you realize that you will likely be stuck on an airplane for at least five hours. How on earth do you survive this?

Here, dear reader, I present you five survival strategies for a long flight.

  1. The Sleeper: If you are one of those people who can miraculously sleep on airplanes, I will envy you. If this is what you want to try, bring some melatonin and take some before you start. Or if you’re like me and absolutely unable to sleep on airplanes, give up and try another survival strategy.
  2. The TV / Movie Binger: Assuming your plane has in-flight entertainment and you’ve tried sleeping on the plane, opt for a series of movies / TV shows to either A: sleep or B: get some fun from this hellish landscape. So you scroll through every single option that the onboard entertainment has and even manage to go through a few movies only to find that you’ve exhausted each option. Or maybe you are lucky enough to see enough movies to make it through your entire flight and I envy you again.
  3. The Workaholic: You may find you have some pre-class work that you have been putting off. So you buy in-flight WiFi and get to work. You pull out your laptop and click your class’ Moodle page to find out how best to spend your time. Or maybe your professor was kind enough to send out an email detailing what to do before class. Anyway, you find out only to find that pre-class work read something from your textbook that’s currently on campus and in the community store waiting to be picked up. Welp to the next strategy.
  4. The Bookworm: Maybe you brought a thousand-page book with you to read, like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina or Obama’s A Promised Land. After you’ve exhausted all other options, you decide to read the thousand-page book. After hours of reading you will finally come to the end of your book, hopefully satisfied with its conclusion. You should land anytime now, right? After all, this book must have taken hours. No Somehow there is at least an hour left on your journey. If you somehow managed to finish a book when the plane lands, congratulations. You have done what no other person has done before.
  5. The Caffeine Addict: Perhaps by this point you have given up hope and decide to have some caffeinated drinks in hopes of staying awake until the plane lands. You call the flight attendant and ask for a cup of coffee or maybe a can of soda. One becomes two. Then it will be three. However, none of this will help you stay awake. You will quickly find that because you are a Swarthmore student, you have built a caffeine tolerance from all of the late nights studying at Sci or going through the night doing your high school homework. Oh how your choices came back to shoot you in the foot later. Eventually, you deal with being too tired to stay awake but too uncomfortable to fall asleep. When the plane finally lands, stomp away with your luggage and head straight for the nearest Starbucks.

(A / N: if you can’t already tell, I absolutely hate long air travel.)

Part 2: The culture shock

So after at least five hours of hellish, sleepless discomfort, you finally landed at Philadelphia International Airport. You choose to use an Uber to transport you and your luggage to Swarthmore College. On the way there you notice a few things:

  • There are a lot of trees there. A lot of. And guess what? They also change with the seasons! For example, they actually lose leaves in winter and grow back in spring, which is really weird to be honest.
  • If you come from a place with mountains, you will quickly find that Pennsylvania is only flat. And full of trees. Well, unless you count the Appalachians as mountains. (Are they really mountains? They are basically glorified hills.)
  • Highways exist. And they have exits. Fortunately, you’re not the one driving, so you don’t have to worry about it (yet).
  • The only place of interest on your trip from Philadelphia to Swarthmore is … well, nothing, actually. That’s overwhelming. Hey, at least the Uber drivers here are cool!

Eventually you reach the college yourself. You quickly move into your dormitory and make yourself comfortable, hoping to explore on your next full day. When you wake up, you’ll be on your way to realize a few more things:

  • None of the buildings are clearly marked. At least the plants, so you can probably impress your friends and family with your newfound plant knowledge. Time to get out Google Maps (unless you’re trying to find Singer Hall. Good luck in that case).
  • That being said, there are some really old buildings and some really modern buildings. Of course, everything is hardly labeled. By the way, where is the dining room? And with that in mind, where is the bookstore?
  • There is a lot going on. Especially up to Parrish Hall (the really big building with the flag). Hopefully you brought some really comfortable walking shoes and maybe an inhaler.
  • You will quickly find that Sharple’s food is a hit or a miss. It’s time to build your own spice rack (or just get all of your groceries from Essie’s or Sci Center). You could also try learning how to cook yourself or find a friend who knows how to cook decent meals. The dorms have kitchens for such things.

Oh boy. You are on a long journey.

Third part: Winter (AKA, everything below 60 degrees)

Soon you’ll build a routine: you wake up, get a mediocre breakfast from one of the available restaurants, go to class, eventually have lunch and dinner, work your way through schoolwork, and turn off at an odd hour of the night. This is worth living, you think, when you go one day only to find that it’s really cold (read: below 60 degrees Fahrenheit).

This is an unfortunate reality for anyone who comes from a place where the temperature never drops below 60 degrees. Once you get to this stage of the semester, here are some survival tips:

  • Sleep next to your (barely functioning) heater on cold nights. And get yourself a thick duvet while you’re at it, in case the heater has stopped working for some reason. Get a Swarthmore sherpa blanket too because it’s freezing cold and can just as easily show Swattie spirit, right?
  • Layering: If you or your parents are freaking out and have packed way too many extra coats, it’s time to use these up. Sure, you’ll likely look like a marshmallow, but at least you’ll be warm. Well, at least until you step into Sharples and sweat like the hell. Have fun taking off all these jackets … and putting them on later.
  • Climate Acclimatization: Perhaps you should adapt to this type of weather as this is where you’ll be spending most of your next few years. So you decide to just put on a hoodie and some jeans to adjust, quickly realize it’s not worth it, and go back inside to grab a coat.
  • Hikikomori: You might think that leaving your warm dormitory for the cold is too much. That way, you buy a lot of groceries on a finish run and survive on it (or until you have to make another finish run). Plus, you rarely, if ever, need to get out of your nice, warm bed (especially now that most classes are out of the way). Hey, at least it saves energy.

The conclusion:

I assume this article will likely be published by the time RD approvals are introduced. However, for any reader who comes to Swat after a lifetime in the tropics, it is free to tackle any of these survival strategies and use them to your advantage. Also, if you already understand the challenges ahead, feel free to leave comments detailing your own survival strategies for these types of things.

That being said, have fun! Could you make the most of your time at Swarthmore too, right?

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