Saturday, September 7, 2013

A year has passed

It seems impossible, and yet a year ago right now, I was on my flight to my year in the intensely vibrant, beguiling, and complicated jumble of a country that is Egypt, chatting anxiously with Carson, my fellow American AFSer in Egypt, about our hopes, dreams, fears, and excitement for our upcoming ten month odysseys.
And what a ride it was. My sojourn in Egypt challenged me immensely in ways I never imagined it could, but by going I also learned many things, saw many places, and met many people that made it more than worth my while.
It is unbelievable that it's already been a year since then. On one hand, it feels like it was such a short time ago, a goal that I was only just working towards. And on the other, I feel like I've come so far from those moments, that I've grown so much as a person and learned so much that I otherwise never would have.

Readjusting has been, thankfully, easier than I ever could have hoped for. I heard many returnee's tales of very hard reentries that made them feel like outsiders in their own homes and reverse culture shock that was harder than the original culture shock of the exchange itself. And I thankfully haven't experienced that. Other than a bit of initial shock in the first few days, at simply being back (since I hadn't really processed the fact that I was leaving until sitting down on the plane), I have done wonderfully in my reentry, if I do say so myself. It's been wonderful spending time with family and friends that I missed so much while I was away. I bask in the glory of cool(er) weather, world cuisine, abundant nature, frozen yogurt, extracurricular activities, and a generally more liberal atmosphere. I've taken the first segment of diver's ed and am well on my way to getting my license. I've registered as a volunteer with AFS USA to help out my local chapter and to give back to the organization. I started my junior year of high school two-ish weeks ago and I've been enjoying it immensely, getting involved in several clubs along the way already.
The U.SA.'s been good to me since I got back.

In spite of the fact that overall, I had a very good experience in Egypt, now that I'm back I can't help but see what was wrong with my exchange there more clearly.
I'll be perfectly honest; Egypt is not an easy country to go to on exchange, especially high school exchange. Even as far as exchange students go, I'm not kidding when I say that it is not a country for the faint of heart. Exchange is not easy from the get-go - it is nothing less than a leap of faith into the complete unknown of a new country, armed with nothing but hope, anxiousness, fear, and maybe a phrasebook for good measure. It's a complete slap to the senses, a window into another side of human consciousness.
For me, Egypt's culture and language were just so completely different from anything that I had ever seen or experienced in my life that it made it quite hard for me to adjust.
Even though I really love Egypt, and I had a good experience there, there were, like I said in one of my earlier posts before I returned, things that I didn't like that I was glad to be leaving behind (i.e. conservatism, pollution, my school, classism, corruption, the political situation and more stringent AFS rules because of it, etc). Also, the huge linguistic and cultural differences made it very hard for me to make Egyptian friends. One of my biggest grievances about my exchange is that I don't have very many close Egyptian friends. Some, yes. But unfortunately not a lot.
Not to mention, I left about two days before these new riots started.
I know it's probably not healthy to think about it in this way, but at times I can't help but entertain the question: would I have had a more successful exchange in another country?
The brutal truth is that I probably would have.
But I'm not sure that I would have it that way.
I learned so much from my experience in Egypt about myself, about the world, about Islam, and about Egypt itself, that I never would have if I had gone to a different country. I met so many amazingly kind and generous people (the cream of the crop being my lovely host family) that I never would have met otherwise. I got to go to beautiful places, like Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, and Ismailia (not to mention, living in Alexandria) that I never would have seen otherwise.
At the end of the day, I got so much out of my experience in Egypt that I can be happy with, and I'm grateful for that. :)
And don't get me wrong, there are things and people that I miss a lot. Most of all my host family. I worry constantly for them because of all that I hear in the news, even though they keep telling me that they're safe. I am very sad that I didn't get to celebrate Ramadan with them. And we've unfortunately not been able to communicate much lately because of busy schedules on both sides (though we'll make sure to change that).
All I can say is, I miss them like crazy, and really hope that I'll be able to see them at some point in the very near future, when and wherever it may be.

And I also hope that I'm not scaring anyone wishing to visit Egypt in the future, exchange student or not. It has its problems at this point in its history, but it's a very beautiful and amazing country, and it deserves to be seen.
In spite of whatever problems I may have had, it really is an incredible place, and I had a wonderful time there.
And I feel very sad that it's descended into political chaos since I left. I feel terrible hearing my host family and friends there talk about how upset they are at what's happened. I feel very afraid seeing atrocious video footage and pictures of the fighting. I feel very afraid when I see creepy pictures of completely empty streets that are usually filled with cars (because of the curfew that's currently being imposed).
I wish that I could help. And yet I feel completely powerless to do so.
I feel bad seeing Egypt in this much chaos. It has been powerful and great so many times in the past, not just in ancient times, but also in the 19th and 20th centuries. I know that it has the potential to flourish like it did back then.
And I hope that it can be like that again in the future.
And the truth is that, no matter what hardships I may have faced there, I had an amazing experience. I may have many other countries that I am highly interested in visiting or living in, and I will hopefully embark on adventures to these other countries. To Italy again (where I'm actually headed in December to visit my relatives). To Finland. To Spain. To Brazil. To Turkey. To the Czech Republic. To Sweden. To Denmark. To Norway. To Iceland. To Argentina. To Korea. To Chile. To Croatia. To Australia. To New Zealand. To Japan. And a whole load of other countries (I could spend hours completing this list, in case you haven't already noticed :P)
But Egypt will always have a special place in my heart.

I suppose I should end this blog now. It feels very weird to say so, and in many ways I suppose it's because these 75 posts represent my year in the mother of the world, the adventure that I looked forward to and aspired to for four years.
But I'm not afraid anymore of what I talked about in my pre-return jitters post about worrying about not having anything to aspire to anymore since this adventure is over. This adventure may be over. But I will surely go back in the future to visit my host family, and I would hope that they will come and visit me here in the States. And I hope to have other, equally amazing global and local adventures in the near future.
I have a lot of hope and anticipation for the future, and many more dreams that I will do my very best to fulfill.

And lastly, thank you so much from the bottom of my heart to you, all of my readers, for being interested in the story of my journey. When I first started this blog, I never thought it would get that much of a following. When it passed a hundred views, I was impressed. When it passed a thousand views, I was legitimately astounded. And now that it's passed 10,000 views (and counting!), I genuinely cannot express how happy and flattered I am that my story of my ten months in Alexandria has attracted so much attention.
Thank you to each and every one of you for taking an interest in this adventure that has become a part of who I am.

I suppose this will be my last post now. If at some point in the future an Egyptian friend or host family member comes to visit me here, I go back to Egypt to visit my host family, I wish to get up on a small pedestal and say my piece about the current situation in Egypt, or wish to tell you all, my readers, about any new adventures I may be having, or otherwise have anything else relevant to say, I will blog again.
But for now, this is goodbye.

Ma' alf salama everyone.
(Thank you.)
-Nico Borbely

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