Moris Deri & the 24 Hour Journey (and other Tales)

It has been more than two weeks since I touched down at St. Paul International Airport. I was overwhelmed at the time by all the foreign noises rushing through my ears as I attempted not to look like a deer in the headlights of a thousand oncoming English-speaking buses.


I checked the time on my phone: still Malaysian time, but that’s not what I really was interested in. I did some quick math and came to the conclusion that I had literally been moving across the globe for over 24 hours. A somewhat nebulous temporal concept known as the International Date Line suddenly illuminated the logistics. About 30 hours prior to this realization, I was at home panicking and sad because I was about to leave Malaysia, which meant forsaking the responsibilities that had always made me feel at home, abandoning the dogs I have come to accept as family, and deserting all the people who have shaped my identity as a person in this messy microcosm known as Moris. I kissed the dogs goodbye, put Sindy and Viktor into my luggage, and left. I didn’t hug or kiss my mom; just a quick wave to avoid stoking the rebellion in my distending chest. We exchanged goodbyes and she wished me well. A proud smile puckered up on her lips as she preached about remembering Jesus and doing my best. She had never heard of Minnesota, and she is still absolutely clueless about where her youngest child is as we speak, but she knows I’m in good company and that she raised me well.

On my 13-hour flight to London, I developed a cough that was so violent I swear everyone on the flight secretly plotted to jettison me as we crossed the Indian Ocean. Fortunately, I was seated with a lovely British couple, Sue and Roger, whose patience in spite of my condition really restored my faith in humanity. Sue was delighted to see Machiavelli’s The Prince in my hands. She told me about her years at Sussex University in the 70’s and how Machiavelli’s work was one of the required readings. I explained how my grasp on the backstory of Venetian Italy was crummy at best, and Roger, who earned his degree in politics from Oxford, immediately took over the conversation to correct this. The long voyage felt much shorter sitting next to them. Upon landing, we took a photo together and parted ways like old friends.

Three hours later, I was on board another mammoth aircraft, crossing the Atlantic with American Airlines to finally reach the United States. The hostesses were the most accommodating people who spoiled me with copious amounts of food and smiles. By then, my cough had died down a little.

My first sign of fatigue pronounced itself in Chicago. I was a little irritated by the security routine at the various checkpoints but reminded myself that the officers were merely doing their job and it was in everyone’s best interest. At the departure gate, I met one of the hostesses from the previous flight who was Minneapolis bound as well. Her dazzling and talkative manner was my first taste of “Minnesota Nice”.

After five different airports, I had finally reached my destination. I asked a woman with an accent where she was from, but she assumed that I was a local (I have a fake mainstream American TV accent) and prompted me to guess. When she found out that I was from Malaysia, she matter-of-factly told me she was from New York. I chuckled in disbelief, but apparently I was fooled by the media. According to Andrea (her name) American TV tends to force actors to lose their accent. Andrea talked to me about American politics, including Colin Kaepernick and the looming election month among other things. This was my first look into the reality of ordinary Americans living in the USA.

So it had been a 26-hour expedition of pseudo-sleeps, suspiciously delicious airline food and happy accidents. I think the thirst for marvels in the mundane was what made me feel so energized at the end of the journey. I couldn’t sleep the first night in Minnesota but it was definitely worth it.

Here’s to an earth-shattering semester abroad!



All through August and into September, our Global UGRAD participants have been flying from all corners of the world and arriving at their host universities across the United States. Now that all 153 fall participants have arrived, check out the Experience America blog on Tumblr to read more stories about our students’ arrivals! 

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