Tuesday, June 9, 2015

What I've been up to lately

Hey guys!!! It's been a minute once again.
Sorry for the continuous hiatuses, but I think once I get into detail about what's been happening recently, it will be clear why I've continued to take them.
With no further ado, I will immediately do what I promised in my last post: give a brief and simplified summary of some of the highlights of 2015 so far.

Since the start of this year, I have...

  1. Traveled to Mexico:
    From February 14th to the 21st, I went on vacation with my family to Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico for the second time. This proved to be a wonderful and freeing escape from the frigid Michigan winter (and I say this as someone whose favorite season is winter), with a week of fun frolicking in the beautiful beaches and colorful town of Isla Mujeres. This time was different from the last in several ways - firstly, the weather was a little cooler for most of the week we were there; in fact, I don't remember swimming much at all in the last few days. This time we also seemed to get a bit more of the local scene - we found a locally owned restaurant near the town square where we treated ourselves several times to the delicious cooking of a kindly older Mexican woman (the quote of the trip was, "I want her to be my grandmother!" xD). My sister and I in particular got into a local cafe named Rooster, which had some of the best smoothies and homemade granola I've ever had. This year, instead of taking a golf cart to the other side of the island, we biked all the way, and after a delicious seafood lunch in a restaurant at the halfway point with an insane terrace view of the sea, hunkered down on the cliffs overlooking the sea and Cancun in the distance all together, as a great bonding moment. :) And, of course, I got great opportunities to practice my Spanish skills with locals. Needless to say, it was a wonderful trip, and I made a very relevant comment towards the end of it: "I haven't felt this relaxed in a long, long time." (Spoken like a true IB student…) 
    From the plane. 

    I took a selfie. 

    The view from our balcony. 

    Sunset version. 

    One of the teams that was practicing for Carneval performances in the plaza. 

    The bridge that connects our hotel to the main island. 

    MIA, our hotel. 

    The cliffs on the other side of the island from when we biked there. 

    About halfway through the island you come across its little military airport. 

    It's like they knew I was there. 

    One of the more colorful buildings. 

    Too many beautiful sunset pictures to count. 

    From when we were about to board our ferry back to Cancun to catch our flight home. 
  2. Selected a college:
    I'm happy to say that I officially will be attending Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin starting in the fall!!! I did an overnight visit at Beloit in March, in which I got to meet members of my prospective faculty, stay in a dorm with hosts, experience a bit of typical campus life in the form of an improv show, eat in the dining hall, and then audit several classes (big surprise, I audited three language classes - Elementary Russian, Second-Year Japanese, and Elementary Hungarian). It had just the sort of dynamic, international, small-liberal arts school feel that I was looking for, and I could definitely see myself happily succeeding there. A few days after returning home, once I'd heard back from all my other colleges I'd applied to (Beloit also gave me a stellar scholarship deal, which was another main motivation), I sent in that enrollment deposit, and committed, sealing the deal for the next four years of my education and life, and I could not be more excited to start there on August 17. :D 
    A colorful path I found.

    Beloit's only a cappella group, Bits and Pieces, performed for the prospective students' event, which was a delight for me, as I have been involved in my high school's a cappella group, Octavate, for the duration of my senior year, and fully intend to audition for Bits and Pieces in the fall. 

    In the dining hall. 

    It snowed overnight while I was on campus. 

    The World Affairs Center was sporting some international bling. 

    It was so cold, but so beautiful.
    This has nothing to do with Beloit or Italy, but the NOH8 Campaign was doing an ongoing photoshoot sort of thing at my school, and I participated with my best friend Donny. :) 
  3. Traveled to Italy: 
    From March 31 to April 12, I traveled to Italy alone for my spring break to visit my family and friends in my mother's home town of Viadana, Mantova, located about three hours to the south of Milan. It was a great trip during which I had the pleasure of being able to visit my second home, be with many family, friends, and loved ones, give my Italian some much needed full-immersion practice, and even see a few new places along the way, namely Florence, which I had never been to before. All in all, it was a fantastic trip, and a great way to spend my spring break. 
    From the plane to Milan.

    In the countryside around Viadana.

    A street in Viadana.


    Taken in my friend Alberto's yard during a cookout.

    In the piazza.

    The rolling countryside by Castel'arquato, a little town I visited with my uncle.

    From the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence. 


    A great view of the Ponte Vecchio from the Uffizi.

    From the Borgo, the older part of Viadana. 

    More wicked views of snowcapped mountains from the flight back to New York from Milan.

    Sounds like my kind of place. 
  4. Finished high school:
    As of April 24, which was the last day of classes for seniors at my school, I AM DONE WITH HIGH SCHOOL. It still seems kind of surreal to think/type those words. Until very recently, it seemed incredibly unreal that this was truly permanent, as for several weeks, there continued to be a string of events that kept bringing my senior class back together as a group. The last day was a pretty emotional experience - at the end of the day, my whole senior class gathered together, and heard speeches from each of our teachers, followed by announcements which included speeches from several underclassmen, all of whom had an older sibling in our senior class. Many started to break down halfway through the teachers' speeches, but what really did me in was watching each senior whose underclassmen sibling had come on air with a deep, heartfelt speech burst into tears. Afterwards, we got led around the school for a "walkout," which featured lots of hugs, and then actually got ambushed by our teachers, who were all armed with silly string and shaving cream, as a more aggressive rebuttal to our senior prank (which was just going into the hallway together and pretending to sleep instead of going to class one day). In any case, the last day of class, though, as you'll soon see, it was by no means "the end," proved to be an emotional but wonderful last day of my four years at Washtenaw International High School. 
    We made a little portrait of one of our favorite history/lit/theory of knowledge (a unique IB course) teachers, Mr. Eric Wynn, who is also incidentally our IB coordinator. 

    He posed with it. XD 
    My selfie with my lit teacher and dear friend, Mr. William Garcia.  
    This was taken later on at my friend Brenna's graduation party, but in keeping with the theme of selfies with teachers, here's another of me with my bio teacher, Ms. Alyson Thompson, and her young daughter Zoey. :) 
  5. Been to prom: The day after the last day of school, my school had its first ever (since I'm part of the inaugural graduating class) prom, which I mention because I feel like it's a particularly important American high school tradition for a lot of people. The theme for our prom was "starry night," and it looked great. Mad props to the student government and spirit committee at our school for pulling off a kickass event. I went with my friend Chathu as my platonic date, and we spent most of the night hanging out with our other main group of friend (the "Nerd Herd," as we've taken to calling ourselves. :D). Everyone went all out for the event and looked absolutely gorgeous - my quote of the night would later prove to be, "it feels good to be around pretty people." xD Apparently unlike a lot of other proms, dinner was actually provided as part of the event, and it was quite good. Afterwards, the actual dance too was great fun - lots of great music was played, the energy was awesome; it was just a fun, fun night, one of the best memories of my high school experience. 
    A good portion of the Nerd Herd: from left to right, me, Chathu, Cate, Aria, Imad, Riley.
    Me and Chathu. ^_^
  6. CONQUERED THE IB: Due to all the exams in my life, May was definitely a killer - over the course of the month, I faced a total of 13 IB exams, plus an AP Italian test that I was supposed to take last year but got moved to this year because of paperwork that got goofed up. It definitely was immensely stressful, having to contend with so many cumulative exams for two-year classes, but at least with regular high school classes over and grades finalized, I only really had to worry about studying for the exams themselves. And due to my greater ease with humanistic subjects (HL Spanish, history, and lit ftw), once I got my math exams out of the way, I felt more or less home free. Due to the fact that the results are not available for another month, I won't know if I actually did get the IB diploma until July 6 (FINGERS CROSSED). But for now, I'm not all that concerned with it, as I try to relax as much as I can after four arduous years of work, and appreciating the sheer accomplishment of finishing the program. :)
  7. Graduated: My very last exam was IB music, and I walked out of there to five free days to marvel at my newfound freedom prior to my graduation. The day before my graduation, my class embarked on our senior trip, which was nothing more than a simple little day trip to Kensington Metropark, a large state park near Brighton, Michigan, just about forty minutes from where I live.  It was pretty simple and low-key, consisting mainly of games of Cards Against Humanity on picnic blankets with my friends, a barbecue lunch, and kayaking. But it was a fun day nonetheless. The next day, we graduated - the day was kicked off with a senior breakfast at school, in which the teachers cooked us all breakfast, and presented a slideshow of pictures from the last four years, along with a more recent surprise production of a YouTube video in honor of our inaugural class, set to our senior song, "See You Again." Our graduation ceremony was held at Rackham Auditorium in downtown Ann Arbor. It felt quite surreal, to don those big blue gowns and caps, walk across the stage, shaking hands with our principal and several superintendents, and walk away with our diplomas, those miniature testaments to all the numerous efforts and struggles from the past four years which culminated in that ceremony. Several of my friends and teachers gave exceedingly articulate and heartfelt speeches, and although it didn't get me quite as teary as the last day of school, it still was a pretty emotional and momentous occasion, particularly in the simple yet exhilarating moment when seventy (yes, my graduating class really is that small) caps were gracefully jettisoned skyward. Immediately following graduation, I was treated to a delicious meal at one of my family's favorite Indian restaurants, and then headed right to school for our senior all-night party. For this fun event, we essentially had a lock-in at our school the entire night after graduation, which was complete with food, a slushie machine, a photo booth, bouncy castles, a bonfire in one of our school's courtyards, games of Cards Against Humanity in the library, and, of course, plenty of time set aside for yearbook signing. It was another fun night that proved to be a wonderful way to officially end my entire class's time together as a group. It still didn't feel entirely permanent at the time, and in many ways it wasn't, with choir and band concerts and a slew of grad parties to follow. But in any case it was a fun time. Our class created a name, a legacy, and a culture from nothing where before there were only overgrown courtyards and shady-mirrored bathrooms, bringing to life a formidable powerhouse of intellectual prowess and achievement in the process, and I will always be immensely proud to have been a part of that. The friendships I made and the things I learned made even the darkest times when I was drowning in feelings of intense stress, existential turmoil, and intellectual inadequacy more than worthwhile, and in spite of all the difficulties and struggles, I will look back on my high school career as a happy time in my life, a time of accomplishment and growth. WiHi class of 2015. go forth and conquer. <3 
    Playing some Cards Against Humanity on colorful picnic blankets - from left to right: Me, Chathu, Cate, Riley, Brenna, Jaylen, Mr. Garcia.

    A view of the lake. 

    The clouds looked pretty over the water. 
    From left to right: Me, Jaylen, Riley, Chathu.

    Enjoying the fruits of my labor at last - my diploma, my IB medallion, and Spanish National Honors Society chords.

    From left to right: Brenna, Donny, me.

    Photoboth fun from the senior all night party.
  8. Been accepted to the AFS Returnee Leadership Summit!!!!: Back in April, right after the end of classes, with my calendar more open that it has been for the past few years, I decided to try and take advantage of an opportunity I was first exposed to through my a good friend of mine, Raihan, a fellow AFS returnee who went two years ago while I was just about to come home from Egypt: the AFS Returnee Leadership Summit in Washington, DC. Nothing more or less than just under a week of international fun and development of the AFS returnee network. Followed, additionally, by a few days volunteering at the YES Abroad end-of-stay orientation for all the hosted students from this past year who hail from all over the Islamic world. I'm particularly stoked that there will be both the Egyptian and Turkish YES students present at that orientation, so I'll get to meet kids from both of my host countries. :) But in any case, that amazing opportunity is coming up quite soon - two days, to be exact! (Incidentally, I should probably pack…) I leave on the 11th and get back home to Michigan on the 17th, and I am so excited and honored to have been selected for this incredible summit. 
And now, a brief preview of my two main upcoming attractions for this summer: 
  1. California: From the 21st to the 30th of this month, I will be traveling to the San Francisco Bay area, mainly to meet up with my dear friends Gianna, Salma, and Ruth from my NSLI-Y program in Turkey last summer (or, as we've fashioned ourselves, the GRNSquad! :D). San Francisco is undoubtedly one of my favorite places in the entire world, and I'm SO excited to see it again, and to be spending my time there with such amazing friends of mine. We're also bound to do and see amazing things while we're there - if it's any indication, we've already planned to go and see a talk given by THE Malala Youssefzai, hosted by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner. There is much to be excited for and look forward to, obviously. But I think the most prominent is also one of the simplest: the sheer excitement of seeing three friends that have become like sisters to me, to whom I've only grown closer in spite of the distance, after nearly exactly a year since we first met. :) 
  2. Spain & France trip: As I mentioned a while back, my next major foreign escapade is going to be a twelve-day tour with Explorica Educational Travel to Spain and France in July. In Spain we'll be visiting Madrid and Barcelona, followed by Paris and Normandy in France, with a few additional stops along the way in between these main destinations. Most of my core group of close friends from my school are going on the trip, and I look forward to spending time with people I love and care for a great deal while also doing something I love and care for a great deal (traveling :)). I know that it will be a fun and informative way to truly bring my high school experience to a close, and I'm, for lack of better terminology, stoked. :) 

Again, I apologize for my long absence. Now that I'm free for much of the summer, I can finally confidently promise that I will provide much more frequent updates, though I cannot promise, however, that they'll be all that interesting aside from the three trips I have lined up. ;) 
In any case, know that there will be more of my blathering to look forward to in the near future (if that is indeed something anyone looks forward to reading)! 
Thank you all for reading as usual!

Until next time,

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