Tuesday, December 22, 2015

General life update

Hey, guys!
So it hasn't been all that long since the last time I invaded your blogger home pages and Facebook newsfeed with my blathering, but I wanted to include a few pictures/stories about things that have happened to me more recently, and just sort of a general life update, as the title of this post would suggest.

So, let's begin.

1) Saturday solo adventure in Madison - November 21: 
Beloit is about an hour and a half by car to the south of Madison, Wisconsin's state capital. Due to its proximity and the availability of discounted, $9 roundtrip bus tickets to Beloit students through our Residential Life Office, it's a place that Beloiters frequently visit on little weekend day trips for concerts, conferences, or just to get up and out of Beloit for a little while and be in a bigger city.
I'd been wanting to go myself for quite some time, and I'd tried to get some friends of mine to go with me, but since that particular Saturday, it had been a while since I'd gotten out of Beloit and I really needed to, I decided spontaneously to just buy myself a bus ticket and go it alone when no one was free to come with me.
I needed to get far away for a little bit, to push myself, go on an adventure, and just get out of my comfort zone a little. I figured it could also be good practice for when I'll be doing much the same thing in Turkey next month.
After one fairly painless and uneventful 90-minute bus ride, I was dropped off on the University of Wisconsin Madison's campus, right in front of a major art museum.
Over the course of the day, I had lunch at a Nepali restaurant called Himal Chuli, walked over to the Capitol Building, which I explored, as well as the nearby Wisconsin State Museum, stopped by one of the lakes, hit up a coffee shop and a used bookstore, and finally got dinner at a Russian restaurant called Paul's Pelmeni before catching the bus back to campus.
It was a really fun day of introspective reflection and solo adventures that introduced me to a great little city. I would very much recommend visiting Madison.
I had lunch in a Nepali restaurant called Himal Chuli.

The inside of the Capitol Building.

From the outside. 

Just a street in downtown Madison.

One of the lakes. 

A used bookstore I stopped in. 

Incredible icicle shot by the lake. 

The capital tinted with the light of the sunset.

2) Thanksgiving in St. Louis - November 25-28:
One of my personal annoyances when it comes to Beloit is the shortened Thanksgiving break - we didn't get Wednesday off. However, that not withstanding, I met my parents and my sister down in St. Louis for Thanksgiving.
Since I don't think I've elaborated much on this, my family is going to be moving to St. Louis next summer, after my sister graduates high school, as she will be attending Washington University in St. Louis, where my father recently took a job.
This was my first time seeing our future city of residence, and although I didn't get to see quite that much of it because of the shortened break, I must say I liked what I saw.
Aside from spending Thanksgiving together with my family, we also explored the city together a bit, checking out the Wash U campus, the City Museum, the Central West End, and so on.
Though Ann Arbor will always be my hometown, I look forward to exploring St. Louis further over the coming months and getting to see what it offers in greater detail.  
Took this in O'Hare on my way.

The descent into St. Louis.

The inside of an old, Christmasy train station. 

The big Christmas tree inside.

From the City Museum.

The Washington University in St. Louis campus.  

From the Aya Sofia Turkish restaurant I ate at with my parents. 

The descent into Chicago on my way back to campus. 

The very festive O'Hare that welcomed me back. 

The lights on the trees, as seen from the moving inter terminal train. 

3) Finals:
I survived. And I daresay, I did good. Straight A's for the first time since middle school.

4) Home for the holidays:
I've been home in Ann Arbor since the 15th, and I've been enjoying myself greatly. I've hung out and caught up with many friends from high school and such, and have just generally been doing my best to settle down and immerse myself as much as I can in my hometown and the rhythm of day-to-day existence here while I'm in town. I went to my high school's first ever Alumni Day (first ever because mine was the first graduating class) and reunited with all my best friends. I've also gotten together with them a number of times subsequently at two holiday parties, as well as seeing the new Star Wars movie (which, as a side note, was fantastic) with my two good friends Chathu and Riley. I also met up with Mr. Garcia, my former lit teacher, to whom I'm still quite close. It's been lovely to reconnect with everyone. :)
Not to mention, the holiday spirit - ever aware of the painful homesickness that dominated December during my exchange in Egypt back in sophomore year of high school, I've been cherishing the holiday spirit as much as possible, doing my best to be festive and enjoy the Christmas season in every way I can. :)
(If you'd like to read a relevant post about holidays I wrote on this blog in 2013, or enjoy a quick flashback to my Egyptian Christmas of 2012, feel free to click on the appropriate link.)
A cool wall map from a night we dined at the Blue Nile, a delicious Ethiopian restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor.
A candid Snapchat shot of me and my friend Jaylen. 
A blurry selfie with the Nerd Herd on Alumni Day.
5) Turkey preparations: 
And now, not much more time stands between me and my imminent return to one of my favorite places on the face of the Earth - Turkey.
All the bookings have been made, plans are being set, the visa has been obtained, and I am ready to go. Suffice it to say that I'm brimming with nervous excitement, and cannot wait to be on my way. :)

Here's my little update for now. I'll be back in a while.
For now, everyone take care, and happy holidays to all!
Much love,

^Signing off today by sharing a few videos made by this guy I found on Youtube named Kirby Henry, who is originally from Minnesota but seems to have lived in Japan for a long time, and translates songs into Japanese and covers them. Cute, talented, multilingual, and musical. What's not to like? ^_^

^Loved this latest vlogbrothers video. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Türkiye - take two

Herkese merhaba!

So as you may be able to tell from the title, I have some good news.
To quote myself from the post I made on March 14, 2014 - a day I will never forget - upon hearing of my finalist status for NSLI-Y when I knew I would be going to Turkey for the first time, I'm not one to randomly type in all caps with a boatload of exclamation points, buuut…


Some things just warrant that sort of excitement, I suppose.

This upcoming trip is an idea I've had in mind for quite a long time, pretty much ever since I knew that Gianna and Krista were going to be in Izmir for this year with their NSLI-Y year program. It was always a goal and a dream I've been aspiring towards, whether that was by scrupulously squirreling away a good large chunk of my graduation checks, getting my job here at the Beloit Phonathon, or obsessively safeguarding every single bit of spare change I can find.
And it's finally going to happen. Just typing that, just saying that, just looking at the itinerary from Turkish Airlines in my email, fills me with the purest joy and jittery excitement that I can barely begin to contain.

Though I would be lying in the extreme if I claimed to not have a lot of finalizing left to do in my plans, the rough idea is this: On December 30, after having been home in Ann Arbor for about two weeks for Christmas, I have a (thankfully) direct flight from Chicago to Istanbul. I plan to stay in Istanbul for about three days to do a bit more sightseeing there than I got to the first time around, and spend some time with some AFS connections of mine in that lovely city. Around the 2nd or so of January, I will probably take a ferry from Istanbul to Bursa, that beautiful host city, my third home away from home, where I will be for about a week, visiting my Turkish host family. Around the 10th or so of January, I will head down to Izmir, likely by train or bus, and stay there for about a week to visit Gianna and Krista primarily, but also hopefully meet up with a few Turkish friends I made at the YES end of stay orientation who live in that area. On the 17th of January, I fly back to the States, with only a brief connection in the Istanbul Ataturk Airport to contend with, and will head straight from there back to Beloit to have but a night of rest before I begin the second semester of my freshman year.


Airline/Flight NumberDepartureArrivalCabinClass
   TK000630.Dec.2015 / 21:15
CHICAGO/O'hare Intl. Airport
31.Dec.2015 / 15:55
İSTANBUL/Ataturk Airport
   TK231317.Jan.2016 / 10:40
IZMIR/Adnan Menderes Airport
17.Jan.2016 / 11:55
İSTANBUL/Ataturk Airport
   TK000517.Jan.2016 / 13:40
İSTANBUL/Ataturk Airport
17.Jan.2016 / 17:55
CHICAGO/O'hare Intl. Airport

^My itinerary.

Lately, reflecting on how much I was thrown for a loop on the Spain and France trip last summer by not being used to such a touristy type of trip, I've come to realize the diversity of kinds of trips that exist. The kind of being a tourist in the extreme is certainly one - one that I had not yet experienced before last July. The kind of trip that is not even really a trip at all, the kind of actively immersing oneself in a local culture and language as much as possible, exchange, is one. The kind that is returning home, or to an ancestral place, somewhere that may have been home in the past but is not anymore, or has always been a home away from home - the kind that I usually take to Italy - is one. And I think returning to a host country for an exchange or otherwise longterm immersive experience is definitely one. This will be the first time I experience that kind of trip; to date, I have not returned to either of my host countries; in fact, the only country that I have been to more than once, aside from Italy, is Mexico, where I've been on vacation twice with my family. Therefore I'm sure that this trip is sure to be an interesting experience in that regard.

Just some thoughts I wanted to share.

A more general update on life and what I've been up to will be forthcoming, likely in a few weeks' time once I'll be back home, done with my finals, and hopefully a little surer of the various plans regarding my trip to Turkey.

For now, I thought I'd just share this beautiful news to the world, and the crazy happiness and anticipation I feel associated with it. :)

Kendinize iyi bak! / Take good care, everyone!

^A favorite Turkish song of mine.

Now a few of my favorite places from the first time around - this is the view of Bursa from the Teleferik ride up Uludağ.

And this is the inside of Bursa's beautiful Ulu Cami. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Beloit College

Hey, guys!

So since I haven't really discussed this topic much on my blog yet, and since I figured that, having just finished my registration for next semester's classes, it might be a pretty appropriate time to talk about this, I'll tell you all a little more about the quirky little liberal arts college at which I have decided to pursue my undergraduate education, and why I picked it specifically.

So, according to our good friend Wikipedia (figured that might be a good place to start), "Beloit College is a private liberal arts college located in Beloit, Wisconsin. It is a member of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, and has an enrollment of roughly 1,300 undergraduate students." What else can I tell you all for some basic background info…? It was founded in 1846. We have our official mascot, the Buccaneer, as well as an unofficial turtle mascot. Our colors are blue and gold. Back in the last century, as I've been learning in my freshman seminar class "Ponder College (in which we've learned how colleges structurally operate in the US and the culture of the liberal arts)," Beloit was well known for the "Beloit plan," a curriculum introduced in 1964 that comprised of three full terms and a "field term" of off-campus study. Although the college no longer operates on the Beloit plan academically, many aspects of it remain, including emphasis on experiential learning, learner agency, and especially the "liberal arts in practice." Some of our stronger fields here include more heavily field-oriented disciplines such as anthropology (Beloit's program is one of the best in the country) and geology, though fields are generally quite strong across disciplines. One of the main draws here for me was that, due to the emphasis on liberal arts in practice, study abroad is more or less ubiquitous, with over half of the student body studying abroad for at least a semester.

I guess that's a good start for general background intro.

The way I personally learned about Beloit was quite random. A college counselor at my school had suggested it to me before, among many other small liberal arts colleges, so I decided to sign up for a Beloit college visit when an admissions representative came to visit my high school. I heard about it, I liked what I saw, and decided to add it to my list of schools to apply to. Seeing as there was no additional writing supplement, I decided to go ahead and submit my application almost immediately for the November 1 Early Action deadline, which at the time was three days away. It was the second college I heard back from and the second to which I was admitted - thankfully with a hefty scholarship deal.

As the college admissions process went on, I had my various ups and downs, successes and disappointments. By March, it was increasingly looking like Beloit would be where I'd end up. I had much less luck in admission to my Regular Decision colleges than my Early Action ones, and the college that until that point had been my top choice, Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, rejected me (which to be honest, I'm still kind of salty about…xD) Overall I'd like to think I handled the disappointment decently well, but that rejection in particular definitely hurt. 

In March, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I did an overnight stay at Beloit, in which I stayed in a dorm with a few hosts and got to audit a few classes the next day as well. I definitely enjoyed the environment and atmosphere, and although I didn't have any sort of crazy epiphanies along the lines of, "I know I belong here and can't see myself going anywhere else," I definitely felt very much at home and in my element in the school's dynamic and international, yet small liberal artsy feel. About ten days after that overnight visit, I committed to Beloit for a number of reasons: Out of the colleges I was admitted to, Beloit was hands down the most affordable option thanks to the generous aid and scholarships I'd been offered; I very much enjoyed my experience during the overnight visit; and I knew that for my undergraduate experience, I wanted to attend a small liberal arts college, as knowing myself I felt like that would be where I would be most comfortable and able to pursue my passions in a compact but dynamic environment. So I committed. And I can safely say that I have not regretted it. 

As I've reflected on in conversation with some friends I've made here, I feel like in a way I benefitted from the fact that I came here without the ideal of the school built up on a pedestal in my mind, from a "this is my top choice dream school and I know that I belong here and can't see myself going anywhere else" type attitude. I'm not saying this in reference to my experience here specifically, as it has been quite positive so far. But I definitely feel that it allows for a bit more wiggle room to deal with any…not necessarily disappointments, per se, but just struggles and flaws that one will realistically encounter, if that makes any kind of sense. 

In terms of academics, as I mentioned before, I've been greatly enjoying myself, and have greatly enjoyed the courses I'm taking this semester, aside from a few occasional annoyances. I have found them (dare I say it?) overall much easier and more manageable than my hellishly hectic and fast-paced high school experience in IB (any WiHi/IB kids, you will be relieved). 
And next semester, I am hugely excited about…

At first glance, I think one could easily write it off as a total nerd schedule, and you know what? I welcome and embrace that. :D My inner language and culture geek is singing, and I am very happy to go to a college that will allow me to pursue my passions to this extent.
I have fulfilled three out of five general domains that one must fulfill before the end of the fourth semester at Beloit already, and when I couldn't get myself into any classes to fulfill the last two, I figured I might as well enjoy myself. And that I will. :P 

In terms of general friendships and connections on campus, I feel pretty good. I'm part of a few different friend groups, which has been nice in giving me chances to connect with different kinds of people and pursue different sorts of activities. In my experience, I haven't found it to be that cliquey - overall, people are pretty down to Earth and accepting in all kinds of different ways. I feel great potential for the friendships I've already formed. :) 

In terms of activities and involvement on campus, I also feel pretty good. I'm involved in "Living the Questions," a spiritual life organization dedicated mainly to philosophical discussion surrounding open-ended questions, Spanish Club, Russian Club, the Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA), and I also recently got a job (my first real job!) at the Phonathon, in which we call alumni to ask for donations. 
There's not much to do in the town of Beloit itself, as it's quite small, and the downtown area, while cute, is more or less limited to a few different shops and restaurants. But thankfully, Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee are all within a pretty manageable distance and easily accessible through discounted bus fares available to Beloit students. I'm hoping to make it out to Madison with a group of friends one of these coming Saturdays. 

That's about all that comes to mind as general background information and outlining of my own experience. 
I hope this was, if not enjoyable or interesting, at least informative reading for some of you all. 
If anyone is interested in Beloit, please feel free to get in touch with me any way you'd like to ask more specific questions!

Take good care, everyone. I'll be back if I have any interesting updates to let you all know about. 
Bye for now! 

^a really catchy Russian song my friend Josh showed me a few weeks ago and that has been stuck in my head ever since 

^the album of an incredibly talented collegiate a cappella group from the University of Pennsylvania I've gotten into lately, called Penn Masala. They do mashups of English pop songs and Bollywood hits, and will make you fall in love with their talent and gorgeous voices. Listen. Do it. 

Campus back in the fall colors.

World Affairs Center (WAC), one of my favorite buildings on campus. 

The college logo. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Life over the past few months

Hey guys!
I apologize for the fact that I've been in a bit of a perpetual state of catchup for much of this year. I'm not going to promise that will change, but I can promise I'll keep writing in one capacity or another. :P
In any case, here's a little summary of some of the highlights of this year since the last time I caught you all up on my life back in June.
Let's go!

1) Washington, DC - Returnee Leadership Summit and YES End-of-Stay Orientation, June 11th-14th: 

During the first portion of the week we spent in the DC area, we stayed in the Hilton Alexandria Old Town and worked on training to successfully carry out welcome home events for returnees in our individual chapters coming back this summer. I was able to gain some helpful insight to later put into apply at my own welcome home event, and was able to make some awesome new friendships and connections with AFS returnees who embarked on their own intercultural adventures in places as diverse as Iceland, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, India, Belgium, Malaysia, Peru, and more. We also had evenings free, and consequently had several great evenings where we rode the metro into DC to check out monuments together, which was great fun.
The second part of the week was the YES End-of-Stay Orientation, which took place at the Hilton Washington Dulles Airport Hotel, in which all the exchange students who had been hosted in the USA with YES were having their final orientation before returning to their respective home countries. Nearly 500 kids, from 24 different countries, all at one airport hotel. It was pretty near organized chaos, but I loved it. I was particularly excited about this part of the trip, as both the groups of Turks and Egyptians were going to be there, and I relished the opportunity to get to know the kids from my host countries. And, fortunately, so too did they! Many were shocked and delighted to meet an American AFS volunteer who could speak to them in their languages, and that was particularly helpful in terms of my Arabic. For the first time since my exchange, I was in a place where I was surrounded by Egyptians speaking to each other naturally in their language, and this was critical, as because I'm fare more capable of understanding Arabic than speaking it, I was able to warm my brain up a little bit by listening before jumping into conversation myself. It came back much more easily and fluidly than had all my previous attempts to speak Arabic since I got home from Egypt; I remembered words I didn't even know I'd forgotten; and it greatly restored my confidence in my own command of Egyptian Arabic. Overall, thanks to much-needed linguistic practice and some fantastic new friendships I made in the form of awesome exchange students, it was a rad week.
From the descent into Reagan Airport

The Hilton Alexandria Old Town was fab

From when we went into the US Capitol the first night

And the World War II Memorial the next day

As well as the Abraham Lincoln Memorial

Me and my new Egyptian friend Mariam, who is from Luxor

Me and Tehreem, a Pakistani AFSer who was in my chapter this past year, and I ran into at the End-of-Stay.

2) San Francisco - "GRNSquad" Reunion, June 21-30: 

Once I got home from DC, my turnaround was very quick - I had but four days before the long-anticipated GRNSquad reunion in San Francisco. I headed out on the 21st, before anyone (ironically even Gianna, my San Franciscan friend who was hosting us) was actually in town, staying with a good friend of my family in nearby San Mateo for a few days prior, in which he spoiled me rotten by taking me to such destinations as the lovely coastal town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Castro District and LGBT History Museum, Golden Gate Park, the Opera House, the area around City Hall, the list goes on.
The 24th was the big day - Gianna had arrived two days prior and taken an extra day to prep and unpack and tidy up after returning from a family trip to the DC area, and Salma had arrived late the night before. As my family friend and I got somewhat lost in the sprawling residential area called the Excelsior District, looking for them, I sat on the edge of my seat full of the best, yet most torturous, kind of anticipation, awaiting that reunion that we'd all looked forward to since those painfully rushed goodbyes back in Dulles on August 11, 2014. And boy, was it worth the wait.
We ran into each other's arms and stayed there, and it was the best feeling ever. :)
Over the course of the next few days, we did lovely and amazing things together such as…

  • Hike up the San Bruno Mountain Summit, 
  • Witness the extra craziness of San Francisco Pride after marriage equality was legalized nationwide in the US (shoutout to my government for actually doing something good for once),
  • Take the BART train up to Berkeley for a day to scope out its dynamic downtown and the UC Berkeley campus, 
  • Go see THE Malala Youssafzai interviewed by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, 
and just hang out together and enjoy each other's company as we normally would - practicing our Turkish, cooking together, watching movies, and just having a wonderful time. :)
On the 28th of June, our friend Ruth, who is currently on a year exchange in Bogor, Indonesia with YES Abroad, finally arrived (directly, in fact, from her pre-departure orientation event in DC). I was so grateful for my reunion moment with Gianna and Salma, but that night when we went to pick Ruth up at SFO was on a whole different level. We were waiting for her by the baggage claim and initially had some trouble locating each other - every time a white girl came down the escalator we were waiting in front of, we gasped. xD We finally caught sight of Ruth by one of the luggage carousels, and basically ran up to the poor girl and smothered her. :) After ten months of being apart and communicating only through text, letters, Google Hangouts, and phone calls, we were at long last reunited all together as a group in the same place, and the realization of that in the moment of that group hug produced a tangible feeling of warmth that radiated from everyone for the rest of the evening. For all you Harry Potter fans out there: if I had to pick a memory for producing a patronus charm, that would be it.
Sadly, after that, there was only one full day left before I left. But we made that one day count in every possible way. We went to the Golden Gate Bridge together, we ate at Gianna's favorite Turkish restaurant, we went to the public library near City Hall and fangirled in the international children's section and the language section, and ended the night by watching part of The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, a documentary I saw a long time ago in theaters with my mom and was bird-obsessed, ten-year-old me's first solid introduction to San Francisco.
The next morning, the Squad took me to SFO to say goodbye, and as difficult as it was to say goodbye to three girls who have become like sisters to me, I felt excited for what lay ahead for us in all our various adventures for the coming year in different corners of the globe. And I knew I could rest assured that we will definitely see each other again soon.

A fountain that I believe was a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr

From left to right, me Gianna, and Salma at UC Berkeley. Our collective grad school goals. 

From left to right: Salma, Ruth, Gianna, and me at the Golden Gate Bridge!

A beautiful mural in Gianna's neighborhood, the Excelsior District. 


A Snap I took of Gianna's dog, Jack. 
Our first reunion selfie! From left to right, Gianna, Salma, me.

The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.

The San Bruno Mountain Summit.

Three generations of Lonely Planet's Turkish phrasebook.

A beautiful mural.

The sun setting into the fog. 

3) Done got my IB Diploma:

This doesn't require all that much explanation. Suffice it to say that after two years of crazy hard work, a hellish month of exams back in May, and near insanity, I made it, and IB done at last. ^_^

4) Europe - Washtenaw International High School Spain & France trip, July 15-27: 

From July 15 to July 27, I traveled on a tour organized by the language department of my high school to Spain and France, on which we visited Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, and Normandy, which a few stops in between these main destinations as well.
Overall, the trip was absolutely fantastic, as could be expected of visiting beautiful new places in the company of some of my closest friends in the whole world.
What threw me for a bit of a loop was that I'm not used to these kinds of trips - my other experiences abroad have been visiting family in Italy and my exchange experiences. In this way, I'm used to either being from the place I visit or being there for intense cultural and linguistic immersion programs, which this touristic trip with classmates from my high school was definitely not. It felt weird to be such tourists, but we did have a few good chances to experience some beautiful bits of local culture, such as a flamenco show in Madrid, and getting to visit our French tour guide Stephane's home in Normandy and meet his family.
I also loved all the places we visited. I fell madly in love with Spain and am now determined to go back, but I've also gained a whole new appreciation for France, which was a country that I previously didn't have a ton of interest in. Long story short, it was absolutely fantastic, and I hope to return to both of those countries to do some more exploring at the earliest opportunity.
From the decent into Madrid.

Plaza del Sol.

Holy Toledo!

The cathedral. 

The Palacio Real.

Pride in Madrid.

The whole squad in Parque del Buen Retiro: From left to right, Riley, Jaylen, Imad, Chathu, Aria, Cate, Sara, Nicho, and me.

The Plaza del Pilar in Zaragoza - we stopped there midway to Barcelona, where my Italian aunt had actually taken me before! It was crazy to be back almost exactly four years later with well-developed Spanish skills.

View of Barcelona from the Park Guell. 

The Sagrada Familia. 

From the overnight train to Paris.

My Parisian breakfast - provided some much-needed caffeine after a night of rough sleep in a moving train.

A beautiful multilingual "I love you" mural from an artist neighborhood called Montmartre.

The view from Basilica Sacre-Coeur. 

The Basilica itself.

The squad at the Louvre - from left to right, Jaylen, Nicho, Aria, Sara, Imad, Riley, Cate, me, Chathu.

Do I really have to label this?

Notre Dame.

A cathedral in Normandy.

A medieval clock in the town of Rouen. 
Nico and Nicho on the beach in Normandy.

Another cathedral in Bayeux.

Normandy's spectacular sea cliffs. 

The Champs-Élysées.

From the decent back into Detroit on the way home. 

5) Portland, Oregon - "Population Control" Reunion, August 3-10: 

During the AFS Returnee Leadership Summit, the fellow returnees I grew the closest to were my friends Mike, who went on exchange to the Netherlands, and Gabbi, who went to Spain, both during the 2013-2014 school year. We dubbed ourselves "Population Control" after an inside joke when we were playing a game the last night of the YES End-of-Stay.
Over the course of the summer, there had been talk of meeting up in Oregon (Gabbi is from Estacada, a little town near Portland), and we ended up making it happen.
Mike and I came into town a little earlier during the week and stayed in a hostel in Portland together for a few nights, visiting interesting places such as the Rose Garden, Pittock Mansion, the Japanese Tea Garden, the Portland Art Museum, and so on.
Midway through the week, we moved it over to Gabbi's house in Estacada, and spent several days there with Gabbi and her family, spending a day visiting the coast, going back into Portland for an awesome market, going to visit Multnomah Falls, and closing our trip on its final evening with an event that testifies to our left-leaning political inclinations: a Bernie Sanders rally. xD
I had a heck of a time getting back home afterwards - my original flight had been delayed, and so Spirit Airlines rescheduled me to fly United the next day at 6 am, I had to get an airport hotel overnight, and the whole situation was just a giant mess. In the end, I made it home safe and sound from a week in an awesome new place that was a fantastic conclusion to a summer full of amazing and unprecedented travel experiences that I was profoundly lucky to have, and that's all I could ask for.
As I later thought while writing a letter to Salma, in many ways it was fitting that I should have flown home on the day I did - August 11 - on United for the first time in exactly a year, which was when we returned from Turkey.
From my flight over the desert on the way to Las Vegas on the way. 

Apparently the custom while in Portland's Airport is to take pictures of the carpet.

Powell's City of Books. My Heaven on Earth.

A view from our walk to the Rose Garden.

Me and Mike at the Rose Garden. 

A rose at the Rose Garden. 

The Chinatown Gate.

The view from a cable car. 

The unrivaled beauty of the Oregon coast.

From left to right, Mike, Gabbi, and me in Newport, a town on the coast.

At the Falls.

Mike by the Falls. 

On the mountaintop. 

A mural in Estacada.

The Bernie Sanders rally at the Moda Center.

Us at the rally. 

6) Beloit, Wisconsin - College has begun

Following my slightly delayed return from Portland, I had less than a week before leaving for college, which between my AFS Returnee Welcome Home Event, volunteering at the AFS arrival orientation for my area, and just overall preparing for the next chapter of my life, was a huge whirlwind. On the evening of August 16, my parents, my sister, and I piled into the car and drove the five hours to Beloit, Wisconsin in preparation for the first day of freshman welcome week the next day.
So far, I can definitely say that college has been proceeding quite well.
The first days were a tad awkward, but that's to be expected, I suppose, and I didn't really find it difficult to find people I felt comfortable around, so that helped. At this point, I would say I feel nicely settled and comfortable here on campus, and I've for the most part been enjoying my studies. I'm taking Russian, international politics, a lit class, and my "first year initiative" (a sort of freshman seminar) class. I also have become involved in a couple of different student organizations, among which Russian Club, Spanish Club, Living Through Questions, the Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA), and Korea and Japan Club (which are mainly event-based). Overall, things have been going well here so far. Can't complain too much. :)
The same path I photographed back in March. I call it "the Rainbow Brick Road."

A little spread I made in my travel journal dedicated to Michigan. 

A Japanese class had some fun outside. 
The cute sign in front of Russian House.

My dorm.

Wisconsin gets some good sunsets.

A scratch-off map I ordered for my dorm.

In the library

FALL TERM 2015 - All Divisions
ENGL 190 02Intro Lit St:Desire&Disconten(5T,W)
  • TR -2:00 PM - 3:50
INIT 100 12First-Year Seminar
  • TR -10:00 - 11:50 AM
INIT 101 12Initiatives Advising Workshop 1
  • -
POLS 160 01International Politics (3B,W,C)
  • MWF -8:45 - 9:50 AM
RUSS 100 01Elementary Russian I (1S)
  • MWF -11:15 - 12:20

^My schedule for this semester!

7) Went home to Ann Arbor for fall break: October 9th-18th

As comfortable and settled on Beloit's campus as I've become, I was definitely quite thankful for the chance to not only decompress, but also to have a change of scenery by heading home for a little week. Thanks to my exchanges, I wasn't exactly struggling with homesickness, seeing as I've been much further away in very different places for much longer. But going home was something that I'd very much looked forward to, as I felt ready to see my family and be in my town again.
The whole situation was kind of different. I've been fortunate enough to travel a fair amount in my life, and I've created everyday lives for myself in new places during my exchanges. But these were always adventures I embarked upon myself, and my home and my family were always there for me to come back to. I had never been home temporarily like I was during this fall break - even seeing my flight itinerary for the trip, Chicago-Detroit, Detroit-Chicago, was bizarre - that airport had never before been a destination for me. I didn't feel like a guest in my own home by any means, and I still had lots of friends I saw (I did a little tour of my close friends at their respective universities :)). It was just weird realizing that everyday life is now in Beloit, and that regardless of the connections I still have, the everyday life I used to have in high school back home is gone.
Just as being home temporarily was weird, so too was reentering a new everyday life in a place that was not home once I returned to Beloit two days ago to start classes again.
At this point I feel more or less normal and settled back into my routine again as I've begun to catch up with friends about their adventures over break, and attend classes and clubs like I normally do.
These are just very interesting realizations I came to over the course of the trip, and I figured I'd do well to share them. :)
From a lakeside park in Cleveland, Ohio, where I spent the night with my mom early in the week.

More pretty lake

Missed Ginsburg's cuddles more than anything. <3

From when I visited Literati, my favorite bookstore in downtown Ann Arbor.

Me and my best friend Donny, who I visited in his University of Michigan dorm.

From when I went up to Michigan State University to visit my close friend Chathu. 

Hung out with my close friend Jaylen in downtown Ann Arbor. 

As well as my friend Ahmed, an Egyptian who was in Ann Arbor from 2011 to 2012 and I last saw in Alexandria right before I came home. 

That's all from me for now. I'll leave you all with an amazing Turkish a cappella medley from Boğaziçi A Cappella, an a cappella group from Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. (I've decided that in every post I write from now on, I'm going to include a cool video or song of some sort that I enjoy and would like to share with you all. :))

Enjoy! See you all soon.

PS: It's gonna take a minute to upload all the pictures, but it will be done. Just bear with me. :)