Arrival in the United States
On Thursday, August 12, 1993, I landed at the Manhattan Regional Airport in Riley County, Kansas. I had two suitcases (in which my mom had stuffed sweaters I had not worn in 10 years, just in case...) and $400 in my pocket. Gas was 79 cents per gallon. Bill Clinton had been inaugurated as President on January 20th of that year, succeeding George H.W. Bush.
It was hot and extremely humid, more humid than I had ever experienced; it was hard to even breathe. The Manhattan Airport was basically just one room, the size of an average living room. There was no conveyor belt for the luggage, just a door, through which they brought the luggage in from outside. I searched the ad boards for a hotel; found a Ramada ($89 per night, almost a quarter of my money). I then called a cab (which I later found out was one of only two taxi cabs in the city of Manhattan). A tall, skinny guy showed up, wearing denim overalls, no shirt, cowboy boots, cowboy hat. He was chewing on a straw of hay. Straight out of a movie, can't make this stuff up. His cab was a relic from the 1960s (I think it was a Chevy Caprice station wagon), had hay on the floor. I assume the cab doubled as a pickup truck. I lowered the window in the back seat; he got pissed off ("Don't touch it!") and told me that he had the air-conditioning on (first passenger car with air-conditioning I had seen, I was very impressed). A WWII tank from "The Big Red One" (1st Infantry Division, US Army, based in Ft Riley) was the "decor" outside the airport terminal. I am thinking to myself "Where am I? What kind of place is this?"
Arrived at Ramada (now a Holiday Inn), watched some TV (the only channel that had anything interesting was one called "ESPN", which had NBA players playing streetball). Then, I ventured outside; I was dripping sweat within 60 seconds. Walked maybe a block. Found a Burger King (still there), had my first Whopper (it said it's "flame-broiled" but I did not know the word "broil"). I could understand maybe 40% of what the kid at the counter was asking me. I saw some Chinese students, who went back to the soda machine and refilled their cups! It was only days, maybe weeks later that someone told me that this is allowed! I thought they were stealing soda... Went back to the hotel and slept all night.
The next morning, I put on my "nice" linen pants and a silk (!!) shirt and went out. They were drenched in sweat and stuck on me as soon as I walked out the door. I started walking toward the housing office. I was the only one walking. The campus police slowed down and were looking at me; I think I looked suspicious because I was out walking in such heat and humidity. At some point, I heard strange voices. As I approached, I saw a house that had three Greek letters on it: "ΔΔΔ". What in the world is this? Dozens of girls, all dressed in identical shorts and t-shirts (that had "ΔΔΔ" on them) were screaming and "singing" things I could not understand. It seemed like the most childish and incomprehensible behavior I had ever seen. Lunacy.
I kept walking in the heat, made it to the housing office, where they told me that ...they did not have a room reserved for me, that they were going to let me know, but they didn't, sorry. This is way before anyone was using e-mail. They found my letter from Greece, which had like 8 different stamps on it. I panicked because I could not keep staying at Ramada for $89. Finally, they figured something out, and, after moving me around for a few days, I got a room on the "quiet floor" at Marlatt Hall. The monthly rent was something exorbitant, like $800, certainly more than the $680 I was paid as a TA.
Later that day, I met my "major professor" and had a first meeting with all the other TAs. I found out I was going to be teaching 5 sections of KIN 101: Introduction to Kinesiology. I did not know what any of this meant. I was just happy to be there. People were telling me that no one had ever taught 5 classes before and were asking me "are you sure?" I was telling them that it's what my "major professor" told me, so that's what I was going to do. Later I found out that the 5 sections had 175 students, who were producing 2 homeworks per week (350 homeworks per week in total) that had to be graded immediately. Of course, that was on top of the three graduate classes per semester I was taking for myself. So, I worked all night, every night, Monday through Thursday, and then slept for 24 hours straight, falling asleep Friday evening and waking up Saturday night around 8:00pm. That's why people were asking me "are you sure?"
A few days after I arrived, I met Tasos Banos at Marlatt Hall, and then Dimitri Tamalis, and we formed a support group, spending hours upon hours at a coffee shop in Aggieville, at the corner of N. Manhattan Ave. and W. Laramie Str. (since 2001, it's called "Radina's", back then it was "Espresso Royale Caffe"). This is how I survived perhaps one of the most physically and emotionally draining periods of my life.
In any case, August 12, 1993 was the beginning of a journey that, over the next 25 years took me from Toronto to Sydney, from Copenhagen to Rio, and from Los Angeles to Taipei, lecturing in many cities throughout the US and more than 30 cities around the world. Needless to say, I could not have imagined any of this on August 12, 1993. Thank you to all of you who were there to help along the way.