As the saying goes, you can’t fool a fool. But what they don’t tell you is that you can fool someone who is naïve and overly trusting.
And that’s me. Actually, I should say that was me. Sometimes it just takes learning lessons the hard way before you figure things out.
I was feeling pretty confident when I landed in Chile. I had a plan: pass through immigration, pick up my luggage, go through customs, and find the person from the university who was going to pick me up.
I made it all the way through customs before everything went awry.
As I searched for the location to meet the group of students I would ride with, a man with an official airport badge walked up and asked what university I was going to. He had a kind smile and easy-going mannerisms, and acted as though he was there to meet students. He then informed me that my group had already left. I was confused, but this didn’t seem like an impossible occurrence. Originally, since I had booked my flight myself rather than through my study abroad company, I was supposed to take a bus to my city. But because I happened to be arriving at the same time as several other students, someone from my university said I could ride with them.
So there I was, following this seemingly helpful guy through the airport. I don’t blame you if you’re yelling at the computer screen right now telling me how stupid that was. But I come from the Midwest, land of Minnesota nice and ‘”Ya sure, you betcha.’ I totally thought this guy was trying to help me.
Because I couldn’t connect to wifi in the airport and my cell phone service didn’t work at the time (I’ve since purchased a new SIM card), the guy offered to let me use his phone to call someone from the university. However, he must have had this planned out and dialed a different number than what I gave him. He put me on the phone with a man who said the best and safest way for me to reach the university would be via taxi. Thinking this was someone from the university, I fell right into it.
It wasn’t until I was sitting in said taxi that I finally realized I had made a big mistake. Figuring out the money conversion here is a bit tricky, so I paid the taxi driver and tipped the “helper” (which he pestered me to do as I climbed into the taxi) way too much. But at this point, I still hadn’t realized I had been completely and utterly scammed, other than the large amount of cash I slowly realized I had paid.
Mr. Taxi driver tried to be all nicey nice when he realized I wasn’t as dumb as I originally seemed. There was no getting my money back at that point, so I just had to sit tight and wait until we reached the university before I made my next move.
After he dropped me off in the parking lot of the university, I dragged my 50 pound bag, my carry-on and back pack across the campus and into the halls of the university. I asked several people for help, but no one had any idea who I was looking for. Finally I asked a student if he could point me in the direction of the International Office.
There are many mean, dishonest people in this world, but there are also a number of kind-hearted, compassionate souls. And for them, I am very thankful.
This student led me there and helped me carry by bags. When I realized the office was empty and locked, I nearly reached my breaking point. No cell service, no wifi and no idea what to do. Bless this guy’s heart, he loaned me his phone so I could call the resident director of the university. She had been worried, as the group had been waiting for me at the airport. I told her what had happened, and she said someone tried doing the same thing to other students, but she had intercepted them before they could leave.
The student dropped me off at a park where I would meet my host family. A group of host moms was congregated around several benches. One approached me and asked my name. “Pobrecita!” she exclaimed. She had heard what happened and introduced me to my host mother. The day was all uphill from there.
Now that I’m a few days into this crazy adventure, I want you to know that I’m absolutely loving Chile, and that experience in no way tainted my opinion of the country. It did, however, hinder my ability to ever trust strange people again, which is probably a good thing.
I’m telling you this story so you’re aware the next time you travel somewhere, because I wasn’t. I consider myself a smart woman who takes precautions to make sure I’m safe. But even intelligent people can be caught off guard. Those crooks totally saw me coming, walking through the airport with the ‘deer in the headlights’ look. Safe to say they chewed me up and spit me out..
Here are a few tips:
- If you travel to a new country, make sure to have a solid understanding of the currency and exchange rate. I didn’t, and people used that to take advantage of my money.
- Don’t take advice from random people who offer assistance when you don’t need it. I was told a lie to make me believe I needed help. Trust your own instinct.
- Stay calm. Crying doesn’t help, and only makes things worse. The one thing I did right throughout the entire ordeal was that I didn’t shed a single tear and I never panicked. You have to roll with it.
When it’s all said and done, I refuse to call it a terrible experience. Yes, it was an expensive mistake, but I learned a very valuable lesson