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Goeun Park: After long journey, good to be home

This is how you get to Detroit Lakes, Minn., from Claremont, Calif.

You start in January, because plane tickets are the cheaper the earlier you book them. Economy is the key here — you’re a broke college student headed home, not a millionaire going to a warm island in the Mediterranean (at least, not yet).

You do not pack enough. That is what happens when you’ve hoarded everything in the past school year and start to gut your room the night before. Your roommate is astounded by the level of stuff you’ve accumulated under the bed and inside the closet, but you’re too busy tearing down the lights from the walls to notice. Somehow, all of your things end up in boxes that night.

You sleep. Get breakfast. Get coffee in the village. Think about studying for your last final. Think about it some more. Study for 30 minutes, then take it. You should maybe probably definitely have studied more, but you manage anyway.

You expected the last day to feel like the last 20 seconds of the first five Harry Potter movies, all bittersweet and teary, but there’s no room for sentimentality when you have a train to catch. You skip the longwinded goodbyes for texts. It’s better this way, you decide. 

You wait at the Metrolink stop at Claremont for the train to LA Union Station. Then, at LA Union Station, you wait for the flyaway bus to LAX. There’s a lot of waiting in this going home business.

LAX is stressful. Your roommate warned you that the carry-on looked too big but you didn’t listen and now you’re the crazy banshee in the corner trying to rearrange everything while half your luggage is sprawled on the floor. The airport security is not impressed.

You take the midnight plane from LAX and fly into MSP at 6 in the morning, exhausted and eager. The airport is chilly. Minnesota is chilly. It shouldn’t be a surprise but it is.

You buy some coffee at Starbucks because you don’t have change for a bus. Wander around for a while before giving up and asking a man who looks like he’s in a uniform for directions. If the cold didn’t convince you that you were back in Minnesota, his friendly demeanor does.

You take a blue line to see Katie for brunch in St. Paul. Grin like a fool the entire time because the public transportation in the Twin Cities is stunningly efficient.

After brunch, you make Katie show you around downtown. It’s nice. Possibly too nice. You’re used to seeing poverty and trash lining the streets of Los Angeles. Minneapolis is pristine. There’s no smog.

For a moment, you imagine that you too could be cool and hip enough to live in Minneapolis. Then remember the six months of brutal winter and decide against it.

You go back to Katie’s campus for your things and then make your way to the Amtrak station. An hour before your train is scheduled to depart, you find out that the station had moved locations a week ago. Also, the train you booked online left yesterday. Oops.

Running with a suitcase is hard. You flag down a bus and try to buy another train ticket with your smartphone. You burst into Union Depot to find out that the train is three hours late. It’s the happiest news you’ve heard in your entire life.

Thirty minutes later, you’re cursing along with everyone else for the train being late.

In the middle of all this, there is a prom happening. A prom, at a train station. You’re too tired to decide whether that’s cute or creepy, but it’s very exciting. You text one of your friends, “LETS GO TO PROM.” She responds back, “Please sleep. You’re getting delusional.”

You’re so, so sleepy. The train rolls in a little past 1 a.m. and immediately, you curl up in a seat and pass out. Four hours later, a man with a walkie-talkie taps on your shoulder and wakes you up. You get off the train.

The air in Detroit Lakes, Minn., is the coldest, cleanest air you’ve tasted in months. You wait a while at the station by yourself, tired and cold and kind of amazed by the fact you actually made it here. All by yourself. It took you 33 and a half hours, but you’re home. You’re finally home.

Goeun Park graduated from Detroit Lakes High School and attends college in California.