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

As I looked at social media pages showcasing Swarthmore’s latest acceptances, I noticed some future Swatties who are coming to Swat from the same place that I did: somewhere in a tropical climate thousands of miles away from campus. I watched as they commented on how they were going to freeze once they came to Swarthmore, and I sat there, agreeing, while also thinking: oh, you haven’t seen anything yet. But when I look back, I realize I also had those same naive thoughts as they did when I was accepted to Swarthmore. So this article, dear reader, is a survival guide of sorts for them and for the many others also coming from a warm tropical climate thousands of miles away from Swarthmore College.

Part One: The Plane Ride

Take-off day. Everything’s packed. You watch through the car window as your parents drive you to the airport, anticipating the long flight(s) ahead. You go through security and make your way towards your flight gate. You’re ready for this, you think.

At least until you realize that you’re probably going to be stuck on a plane for at least five hours. Now, how in the world do you survive that?

Here, dear reader, is where I present to you five survival strategies for a long-ass plane ride.

  1. The Sleeper: If you are one of those people who is miraculously able to sleep on planes, I envy you. If you want to attempt this, bring some melatonin and take some before takeoff. Or, if you’re like me and you absolutely cannot sleep on planes, give up and attempt another survival strategy.
  2. The TV/Movie Binger: Assuming your airplane has in-flight entertainment and that you’ve attempted sleeping on the plane, you decide to binge a bunch of movies/TV shows in an attempt to either A: sleep, or B: get some fun out of this hellscape. So you scroll through every single option the in-flight entertainment has to offer and even manage to get through a few movies, only to realize that you’ve exhausted every option. Or, maybe you’re lucky enough to watch enough movies to get through your entire flight, for which, once again, I envy you.
  3. The Workaholic: Perhaps you realize that you have some pre-class work that you’ve procrastinated on. So, you purchase in-flight Wi-Fi and get to work. You pull out your laptop and click yourself over to your class’s Moodle page to figure out how best to spend your time. Or, perhaps your professor was nice enough to send an email detailing what you have to do before class. So either way, you find out, only to realize that the pre-class work was doing some reading from your textbook, which is currently sitting in the Campus and Community Store waiting to be picked up. Welp, onto the next strategy.
  4. The Bookworm: Maybe you brought a thousand-page book to read, such as Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina or Obama’s A Promised Land. Having exhausted all other options, you decide to read said thousand-page book. Eventually, after hours of reading, you finally get to the ending of your book, hopefully satisfied with its conclusion. You should be landing any time now, right? After all, that book must have taken hours. Nope. Somehow there is still at least an hour left in your journey. If somehow, you managed to finish a book just as the plane lands, congratulations. You’ve done what no other human has done before.
  5. The Caffeine Addict: Maybe you’ve given up all hope at this point, so you decide to down a bunch of caffeinated drinks in hopes of staying up until the plane lands. You call over the flight attendant and ask for a cup of coffee, or perhaps a can of soda. One turns into two. Then it turns into three. Yet, none of it is helping you stay up. You soon realize that because you’re a Swarthmore student, you’ve built up a caffeine tolerance from all those late nights studying at Sci or pulling all-nighters trying to do your high school homework. Oh, how your choices have come back to shoot you in the foot later. Eventually, you resign yourself to a state of being too tired to stay up, yet too uncomfortable to fall asleep. Thus, when the plane finally lands, you trudge off with your luggage and immediately head to the nearest Starbucks.

(A/N: in case you cannot tell already, I absolutely hate long plane rides.)


Part 2: The Culture Shock

So, you’ve finally landed in Philadelphia International Airport after at least five hours of hellish, sleepless discomfort. You decide to get an Uber in order to transport yourself and your luggage over to Swarthmore College. On the way there, you realize a few things:

  • There are a lot of trees. A lot. And guess what? They change with the seasons, too! Like, they actually lose leaves in the winter and grow back in the spring, which is frankly really weird.
  • If you came from a place with mountains, you’ll quickly realize that Pennsylvania is just flat. And full of trees. Well, unless you count the Appalachian mountains as mountains. (Are they really mountains though? They’re basically over-glorified hills.)
  • Highways exist. And they have exits. Luckily, you’re not the one driving, so at least you don’t have to deal with that (yet).
  • The only interesting place on your journey to Swarthmore from Philadelphia is … well, nothing really. That’s underwhelming. Hey, at least the Uber drivers here are cool though!

Eventually, you arrive at the college itself. You quickly move into your dorm room and settle in, hoping to explore on your next full day. When you wake up, you head out, only to realize a few more things:

  • None of the buildings are labeled clearly. At least the plants are, so you can probably impress your friends and family with your newfound plant knowledge. Time to pull out Google Maps (unless you’re trying to find Singer Hall, in which case, good luck).
  • That being said, there are some really old-timey buildings and some really modern buildings. All barely labeled, of course. By the way, where is the dining hall? And on that note, where is the bookstore?
  • There is a lot of walking. Especially up to Parrish Hall (the really big building with the flag). Hopefully you brought some really comfy walking shoes, and maybe an inhaler.
  • You will quickly realize that Sharples food is hit or miss. Time to build your own spice rack (or just get all your food from either Essie’s or Sci Center). You could also try to learn how to cook yourself, or get a friend who knows how to cook decent meals. The dorms have kitchens for that sort of thing.

Oh boy. You’re in for a long ride.


Part Three: Winter (AKA, anything below 60 degrees)

Soon you build a routine: you wake up, get a mediocre breakfast from any of the food places available, head to class, grab lunch and dinner at some point, grind your way through schoolwork, and knock out at some odd hour of the night. This is livable, you think as you head out one day, only to realize that it’s really cold (read: below 60 degrees Fahrenheit).

This is an unfortunate reality to anyone coming from a place where the temperature never drops below 60 degrees. Thus, once you hit that stage of the semester, here are a few survival tips:

  • For cold nights, sleep next to your (barely functioning) heater. And get a thick comforter while you’re at it, just in case the heater stops working for some reason. Also, get a Swarthmore sherpa blanket because it’s freezing and might as well show off some Swattie spirit, right?
  • Layering: If you or your parents freaked out and packed way too many extra coats, then it’s time to put those to use. Sure, you’ll probably look like a marshmallow, but at least you’re warm. Well, at least until you enter Sharples and you’re sweating like heck. Have fun taking all of those jackets off … and putting them back on later.
  • Climate Acclimation: Maybe you should adapt to this sort of weather, seeing as you’re going to be spending the majority of your next few years here. So, you decide to head out in only a hoodie and some jeans in an effort to adapt, only to quickly realize that it’s not worth it and head back inside to grab a coat.
  • Hikikomori: Maybe you think that leaving your warm dorm for the cold is too much to bear. Thus, you buy a crap ton of food on a Target run and survive off of that (or until you need to make another Target run). Also, you rarely, if ever, have to leave your nice, warm bed (especially now that most classes are remote). Hey, at least it conserves energy.

The Conclusion:

I assume this article will probably be released around the time RD admissions roll out. That being said, to any reader who is coming to Swat after living in the tropics their whole life, feel free to take up any of these survival strategies and use them for your benefit. Or, to anyone who already understands the challenges ahead, feel free to leave comments detailing your own survival strategies for this sort of thing.

That being said, have fun! Might as well make the most of your time at Swarthmore, right?

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