The Airport: More Than Misery

Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there and why is it meaningful to you?

I have been led to believe that for most, the airport is compulsory misery, a means to an end, on par with a visit to the DMV. But for me, alone in the airport, amidst the chaos of mankind, I am entranced. Perhaps it’s my desire for independence, or the opportunity to be a silent yet observant bystander of the fascinating dynamics of human nature, that draws me to the airport. Perhaps it’s the absurd abundance of Starbucks. But more likely, it’s the feeling that the airport elicits in me, the sensation that I am part of a worldwide interconnectedness, a universalism spanning borders, cultures, and generations in a common thread linking humanity together.

Of course, if we break it down, of what is humanity comprised? Individuals with stories that represent their experiences and perspectives and dreams. From a young age, I was enthralled by the endless possibilities of these stories. On long road trips, I would gaze out the car window into the fleeting profiles of the passing cars and conjure up lives and destinations for the passengers, as I do now at the airport. The heavily bearded man in the Volkswagen with the bumper sticker “Start a Revolution!” became a flower-child who now travels the world installing water pumps in African villages. The woman with a pi tattoo on her collarbone became a mathematical mastermind, computing stellar distances for NASA. Some might call these fantasies presumptuous, but I was exercising an eight-year-old imagination keen on people, an imagination that thrives today while transiently observing passersby at the airport.

What makes the airport ideal for human observation is the clear presence of diversity and internationalism. Three centuries ago, humanity existed in relatively bounded regions, with little flux. This confined physical state corresponded with a curbed state of mind. However, the age of technology has given rise to a globalized world, where potential for new experiences is virtually boundless. The airport is a microcosm of this interconnectedness to which I am drawn. I have an analytical mind, but foreign relations and world cultures speak to my soul in a way that linear algebra does not. My commitment to Model United Nations, my visit to Congress to conference on conflict in the Middle East, and the relationships I have established with international friends are products of that magnetic draw.

International travel and cultural immersion really fused for me this past summer when I went to Romania on a Rotary Youth Exchange for an archeological dig. Travelling unaccompanied with multiple layovers in various countries (and gaining maximum airport exposure, of course), I arrived in a nation rumored to be the sex trafficking capital of the world. That’s a lot of vulnerability in one sentence. And yet, it was the most rewarding, culturally invigorating experience of my life, making transcontinental friends who will hopefully enable a future European backpacking adventure. We were sixteen youths from sixteen different nations and sixteen very different worlds, communicating with amusing accents and linguistic blunders, but for three weeks, we felt like a family. This experience allowed me to fully appreciate and understand the smallness of myself in a diverse and dynamic world.

Sitting at a boulevard-facing coffee shop in the Bucharest airport at dawn, people streaming past me in all directions, I feel this same smallness. I am but a microscopic piece of the infinite complexity of society. But this awareness is counter-intuitively invigorating. Sipping my espresso, I realize that however small, I too have a role in the vast interconnectedness, I too belong to a culture. And perhaps someone across the way is dreaming up a story for me.

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