Welcome to the Journey Back

For those who don’t know..
It all started in January of 2021. I finally came to terms with the fact that I was not going to be able to stay in Europe much longer due to COVID-19 and not having a job. It was a really sad day once I realized that I needed to come up with an exit strategy. I started looking for jobs in the US and applied to them if I saw something that fit what I wanted to do. Much like Milan and the rest of Europe, I was striking out. I knew that I just got this degree, I wanted to put it to use. Because.. that’s what you do? Right? Get a degree and then immediately start a job using said degree?

Wrong.

I couldn’t even get interviews for positions I wanted and it was VERY discouraging.

So I went back to what I know. Retail. I started to look for positions with brands pretty much everywhere but knowing where I wanted to move. My end game has always been to work my way into a corporate position for any brand so that meant for the US needing to get to New York City. So that’s what I did.

I applied to at least 100 different store positions across NYC. Finally getting an interview with the company called rag & bone. I got the position at their flagship in SoHo and finally scheduled the trip home.

Here’s the fun part of the story.

My mom knew I was coming back. She thought I would be home at the end of February. Which was the original plan. However, once my laptop was stolen from my table in Starbucks {RIP} I was even more upset and just wanted to get back as soon as I could. I told my dad that I needed to come home earlier. So I planned an earlier flight, but didn’t tell my mom. Trying to pull off the surprise of a lifetime.

I booked my flight from Milan to London then London to Charlotte. At the time there were no direct flights to the US out of Italy so that was my only option to get out and also use American Airlines {who my step mom works for}. Mind you, the only people aware of this plan were my friends in Milan, my dad, step mom, and step dad. It was on the biggest DL ever.

So the day comes, February 15th, 2021, that I am set to fly from Milan to London on AlItalia. Stay the night in London at the airport and fly American Airlines directly to Charlotte February 16th, 2021.

Until that didn’t happen.

Some people may know about the Brexit. If you don’t.. quick summary is that the UK is no longer considered part of the EU.. which plays a crucial role into why I was unable to complete the trip home as expected.

I conned a friend of mine, Diana, to help me take my luggage to the airport and come with me for one last goodbye. Thankfully she did.. or I probably would have been lost and just crumbled this day.

Before even going to the airport I knew I had to have COVID tests, and forms done so that I could board my flight home. I took 3 COVID tests, had all results printed and on my phone for viewing. Upon my arrival to the Milano Linate airport after standing in line for an hour, I was told that the UK government is only accepting COVID tests in English, French and Spanish. Unfortunately for me, all three of my COVID tests were in Italian. Also that I needed to have additional forms filled out for the UK Government that were enacted THAT day. One of which was a payment to the government site of £300 {roughly $407} before they could let me through.

*Cue the tears*

Was told that there is a testing site across the street that I could go to and they would give me results in English. So I sprinted… and I mean SPRINTED to this place that was actually across a four lane highway with no cross walk and also had no slots for walk up/drive up appointments. (Apologies to my dad who I was on the phone with screaming and crying at him as if it was his problem).

Somehow I convinced them to give me a test, and send me my results. Meanwhile, my friends Diana and Berni are trying to help me fill out the other forms and figure out what else I needed to just get on that plane to London before the flight left in one hour.

Once I was tested, one of the testing guys offered to drive me back across the highway to make it there before my flight left.

Fast forward to waiting in the line again.. my results were sent but said “negativo” AGAIN. Not in English but in Italian for the fourth time.

*Cue more tears*

Once to the front of the line talking to the agent, I told them I was not paying the fee for the UK government because it was something stating you were going to isolate for 10 days, and receive 2 at home tests before leaving.. blah blah blah. When I was going to be in London for less than 10 hours and not even leave the airport. I also convinced them to accept my Italian COVID test results since negativo and negative are literally the same and I have been tested 4 times in the last 36 hours.

Here’s where the Brexit comes in.

Since I was checking luggage, and London is no longer part of the EU…Meaning no open borders, I would have to go through customs, claim my luggage, re-check it to my American Airlines flight and then wait for the flight. While I physically was not leaving the airport, once you go through customs, you’re “in the UK” meaning I have to abide by UK COVID laws.

We then convinced them that I wouldn’t leave the UK and someone would go get my luggage for me. I don’t know how or why we came up with that, but we did and it worked…so we thought.

They wrote down on my boarding pass that I was cleared to go. I gave Diana one last hug, and ran through security that they let me skip the line for.

Now if you have ever travelled internationally, you know when you’re coming back and going through border patrol they check off on your passport that you left the country. Well, I had mine thoroughly inspected because I was on my final days on my visa and he was not thrilled. But he checked it and off I went to my gate.

At the gate I was finally catching my breath and I’m line to board with my group, when they asked me for all my documents. I showed them my passport, contact tracing form, covid tests and boarding pass. They then asked for my document stating I paid the fee and can enter the UK. To which I showed them the notes from the ticket counter saying I’m excused from it. Which apparently meant nothing to them.

The gate agent told me to step out of line and wait. So I did. I waited for everyone to board that flight until they finally came back to me for what they could do. Which was nothing.

They said without that I was not able to get on the flight, even if i wasn’t leaving the terminal once I landed. They called everyone. Their supervisors in Italy, and the gate people in London. To try to get me on the plane. By the time they were convincing everyone it was okay, the plane had left.

I was angry. I went through absolute hell that day. There were no words I could have used to describe what I was feeling. Just tears pouring down my face. The AlItalia people helped me and tried their hardest, it just didn’t work.

I took this photo while I waited for my luggage to come back through the baggage claim after being told I was not able to leave. A mess.

The next step was figuring out how to make it back to Charlotte, again. And the only solution was fly to London on Saturday. Then figure it out from there. Which wasn’t in my game plan. I told them I need to get to London as fast a possible. American Airlines only flies from London to Charlotte 3 days a week. And the next one wasn’t until the next week. The solution they gave me was they would book me to Rome. Then fly to London, stay the night and then fly to the US.

I took it. But that meant staying in Milan an extra day and a half, not having a place to stay, more COVID tests, and stressed to the max. Thankfully my friend Berni and her boyfriend Carlos welcomed me to their couch.

Reminder. My mom still has no clue what’s going on. I almost ruined it that day because I wanted to call her to cry and complain. But I didn’t. I was determined to make it.

Also, I no longer could fly directly into Charlotte. I had to take American Airlines flight from London to Chicago, then Chicago to Charlotte.

So fast forward to my new travel day. Feb 17, at 4:30 am. I trekked to the airport. So I could get there as soon as they opened. I paid the £300, took another COVID test, filled out more paperwork and finally was on my way to Rome.

Now once I got to Rome, it was the same story with border patrol… except this time. It looked like it had already left the country. So that was fun to explain. I looked at the man and just said “ please . Ive been trying to leave for 3 days . I was stuck here for all of COVID. I just want to go home.” To which he stamped my passport again, and sent me on my way.

I’ll spare you the other boring details of me just going airplane to airplane to airplane for the next day and a half, but I finally got the green light to go.

I landed in Charlotte around 9pm Feb 18. Donn convinced my mom he was working late, when he was actually just coming to pick me up. My first stop was obviously Bojangles, for which I inhaled..then off for the big reveal.

First stop was without a doubt Bojos to get sweet tea. I deserved this!

Attached is the video I compiled of my whole journey back. If you just want to skip to the end to see my moms reaction, please do. Truly thought my mom was going to fall on the floor. It was so great to finally be home , even with her over the top reaction.

I hope one day I can go back to Italy & not have such anxiety about being in the place that caused a lot of trauma and loneliness in me. But for now I’m enjoying my new life in New York City working for Michael Kors Corporate office. It’s been a dream come true and I wouldn’t trade anything I have gone through for the world. ( well except my laptop getting stolen )

Enjoy
Xx

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