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.
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,
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.|
|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?|
|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.|
|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.|
|Wisconsin gets some good sunsets.|
|A scratch-off map I ordered for my dorm.|
|In the library|
|FALL TERM 2015 - All Divisions|
|ENGL 190 02||Intro Lit St:Desire&Disconten(5T,W)|
|INIT 100 12||First-Year Seminar|
|INIT 101 12||Initiatives Advising Workshop 1|
|POLS 160 01||International Politics (3B,W,C)|
|RUSS 100 01||Elementary Russian I (1S)|
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.