All of a sudden, my head was level with the feet of the person walking in front of me, and I heard my counselor Kevin’s frantic yell for help. I had fallen into a manhole. What a fantastic first impression, right?

The night before, I experienced the familiar vomit-inducing stomach pangs I had felt every time I left home since I went to sleep-away camp for the first time at nine years old. I wondered how I was going to be able to survive this month-long trip abroad, far from my family and friends. When I was eight years old, my father passed away from mucosal melanoma. Since then, I have been incredibly close to my mother, my anchor, my confidant and above all best friend, so walking into the unknown, I blinked away my tears of nostalgia, and bravely boarded the plane to Spain, with 30 strangers, most of whom came on the trip with a friend. Exiting the plane onto the runway, I could feel the sun’s scorching rays turning my skin from an unnaturally pale complexion to that of a lobster.

Walking alone amidst this group of talkative teens from seemingly everywhere but Massachusetts, I was quiet for possibly the first time in the entirety of my existence. Usually in uncomfortable situations such as these, I use my sense of humor to maneuver my way out of the awkwardness because making people laugh has always been my way of breaking barriers. I smiled at the bus driver as I sauntered onto the vehicle that was to take us to our new home for the next few weeks. I sat down, and I watched the foreign world that was Madrid pass by me. The magnificence of the architecturally wondrous city caught my eye instantly with the feel of a new universe I had yet to explore. Within an hour of our arrival, Kevin informed us that he was going to lead a walking tour around the area in which we would reside. I dragged myself along, barely able to keep my eyes open.

Like a black hole, the manhole suddenly sucked me into its gut-wrenchingly odorous depths. Fairly unscathed, I climbed out of what had minutes before been a closed sewer, and the first thing I noticed when I emerged, was 30 unfamiliar faces staring down at me. I’m sure my expression would have matched theirs had I seen a 5’11” Amazon suddenly fall through a hole in the ground. My height is a descriptor that others and I have used for most of my life, including my Dad who would joke that I could eat all the children in my grade. This hilarious yet disconcertingly valid remark rings true even today. Any normal human being would have immediately turned beet red in the midst of this situation, but I started to laugh. I laughed until I choked on the nauseating, gaseous fumes circling the manhole and started crying because of my incessant coughing, and I laughed until everyone started to laugh with me. This hyena-like laughter is one of the many traits I proudly inherited from my Dad, and one that I have been told numerous times by my grandparents that I emulate more and more as I mature.

After having fallen into the manhole, any shred of homesickness I had felt vanished. This incident, no matter how seemingly embarrassing and clumsy, was my avenue into gaining the acceptance I needed from my peers to be myself on the trip. My laughter broke the ice. My whole life, humor has acted as that pathway. What my fellow travelers saw was my true nature; I was not acting out the role of a well-written character on stage as I did in theater. I was Sydney. Well, the new Sydney; one who avoids manholes like the plague.