Missing in Action

Growing up in Queensland, all you ever hear about is UQ. It’s the best, the biggest, and the oldest university in the state. However, it’s safe to say that my first experience with UQ was not the best. Don’t get me wrong—it was very enjoyable. But when a story ends with four teenagers and a panicked teacher sleeping in an airport, you know something went wrong along the way.

 

The first time I ever saw UQ, I was fifteen. I was on a school trip with three of my closest friends, and a teacher who was probably more stressed than the rest of us put together. For a bunch of rural kids who hardly ever left the confines of the town centre, UQ was pretty intimidating. It was during a semester break, thankfully, so we weren’t inundated with students going about their daily activities.

 

We were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to stay in one of the colleges on campus at St. Lucia. As a fifteen-year-old who’d wanted to go to university since I was about eight, this was pretty damn exciting. The rooms were owned by boys, which freaked the girls out a bit, but we managed to calm down once we realised we could get free hot chocolate and toast from the college cafeteria, even in the middle of the night.

 

The competition we were in town for went fine. We didn’t win, but that’s because ‘some’ of us didn’t really study the neuroscience textbook as well as we should have. To be fair, I’d been more interested in a trip to Brisbane with my friends. I was only fifteen at the time. Once we’d had our photo taken in our fancy school uniform and smiled nicely at the camera as if we were happy to come last, the three of us girls rushed off to get changed in the bathroom. We didn’t want to be seen in public in pleated skirts and ties. Rushing madly to the bus straight afterwards, we waited impatiently, becoming worried when our bus didn’t show up. See, we had to be at the airport to catch our flight back to Cairns. And we were slowly running out of time.

 

Eventually, another bus showed up, and we quickly got on, willing the bus to move as fast as humanely possible. We were still mostly just nervous at this point, our teenage brains not thinking as logically as our teacher. We somehow thought that we still had enough time to transfer to the airport train, check in our bags, and board the flight in time.

 

We were wrong.

 

Despite running like madmen down the escalator and across the Brisbane airport, we reached the check in desk just as the plane was departing. The four of us began laughing out loud, while our teacher stood, looking shocked, and probably quite scared at the thought having to call our principal. No teacher wants to inform their boss that they’re stranded in another city with four teenagers and no way home. The next flight up to Cairns wasn’t until seven the next morning, and since we were all stingy with our money, we didn’t particularly want to stay in a hotel. So, feeling fairly confident about our decision as naïve fifteen-year-olds, we decided to sleep in the airport. We’ll be fine, we thought. It can’t be that bad.

 

It was fairly fun to start with. There were doughnuts and photo booths and all kinds of exciting things to keep us occupied. But around ten o’clock we were kicked out of the upstairs area of the Brisbane airport, and things got a lot less fun. The main entrance to the airport has a lot less going on. There are no shops or food courts or even many vending machines. We stayed awake for a few hours watching television shows on our friend’s laptop, but after a while we couldn’t stay up any longer. The three of us girls cuddled up together to sleep, while our male friend and teacher remained awake for most of the night. I don’t think our teacher had any intention of sleeping. She wasn’t going to leave four teenagers alone in an airport full of strangers.

 

The next morning everything went smoothly. We got to our flight in time, of course, and made it back home alive. So the main thing I remember from my first experience of UQ isn’t really UQ. It’s sleeping in an airport, without blankets, huddled up beside my friends using our backpacks as pillows.

 

Although, UQ must have had some impact on me, because six years later I came back. The courtyard is just as grand as ever, the coffee is still overpriced, and twenty-something adults still purchase bags of lollies like they’re twelve. So despite my first, terrible experience with UQ, I’m still glad I had it. Because without it, I wouldn’t be studying here today.

Jessica Kennedy