Today is a day of mixed emotions. There are some that feel they can't get to the airport fast enough so they can get home. Then there are those of us that are sad that we're leaving new friends and an amazing adventure behind and will have to return to the reality of our normal (?) lives once back in the United States. Regardless, it's been a long five weeks filled with the full range of emotions that one can experience, and I don't think there's a single person in our group that can not say that this has been a life changing experience. We pack early, and hopefully struggle with our luggage for one last time as we board the bus to head for the airport.
It's very difficult for Dale and some of the others to say goodbye to Emma and Mr. Wong from Lead Culture. They're been with us the entire trip and have experienced everything with us. Saying farewell is a tearful event, but there's a flight to catch. We board our plane and though there's excitement in the group about finally going home, we mostly sit quietly and contemplate everything we've experienced since first arriving in China.
The flight to Newark should be uneventful, but it turns out that there's still some adventure left. Brittany B. and Alexa get sick on the flight back, and aren't looking too good once we land in Newark. We make it through immigration and customs with no problem, and and only have to catch our connection to Charlotte at this point. We're so close to being home! But, no sooner than we clear customs we learn that our flight has been cancelled! It's too late in the day to get another flight that will get us to Charlotte at this point. We're stuck in Newark for the evening. The airline books us a hotel for the evening, and we lug our bags out to the curb to catch a shuttle. At this point, it's around 8:00 PM. Only a few of us can get on the shuttle that shows up. It's crowded and simply not enough room for luggage and people.
The first group arrives at the hotel, and it's booked up! We can't stay there! Phone calls are made and another hotel is found. Meanwhile, the rest of us are still sitting on the curb back at the airport. Whenever a shuttle shows up for our new hotel, folks with less luggage than us push through in front of us, and only two or three at a time are getting on the shuttle, which is only showing up every 20 minutes or so. By the time the last of us get on the shuttle, it's already midnight, and we have to be back at the airport by 4:30 to catch our connection! We should have just slept in the terminal. At least we would have gotten *some* sleep!
We awake at 4:00 AM, at least those that decided to try and sleep. Getting back to the airport proves even more difficult than getting to the hotel. People are shouting and want to go ahead of us and all our bags and it's not pretty. We didn't have this much trouble and see this many impolite folks even in China. Welcome home!
After a lot of trouble, we finally get the entire group to the airport. As we board the place, the flight crew notices that Brittany B. isn't looking too good. They decide to pull her off the flight! Since her mother was one of our chaperones, she departs with her. Alexa still isn't feeling well either, but once she sees what has happened to Brittany, she hides it and manages to stay on the plane.
Our flight takes us to Atlanta first, then to Charlotte where we're met by a large group of parents with "Welcome Home" and "China will never be the same!" signs. A short drive to Columbia, and we're home.
This would seem the end of the tale, but Brittany B. and Alexa both end up in the hospital almost the second they get home! Luckily, nothing too serious and the were both back home in a few days!