The Moroccan sun was blazing outside, lighting up Rabat, the city that would come to feel like a second home to me. In the maze-like medina, the oldest part of the city, women were bargaining for fish and bread. Pastry chefs were selling fresh almond candy to children who were leaving school for their afternoon break.
Old men sat in cafes on the side of the road — smoking cigarettes and sipping espresso for hours, talking to old friends. Fishermen were hauling their daily catch in the bay next to Le Dhow, a traditional Arab wooden boat with a bar inside. Businessmen were catching trains and university students were cramming into trams. And in the middle of the city was me. Sitting alone in McDonalds, eating french fries and crying my eyes out.
In my final semester at Mount Holyoke (I graduated in December 2018), I’m hit with waves of nostalgia as I see the places and people that have become important parts of my journey — that from a naive, timid first-year student to a pretty bold senior. But if you had asked 17-year-old me if I would get to this point of nostalgia, or even get through these four years, I’m pretty sure I would have scoffed. Loudly. That’s how unfathomable the idea once seemed.
After my first year as a Mount Holyoke student, the thought of being back home for anything longer than 20 days was unsettling. Not because I wasn’t happy to go home, I was. But merely because my first eight months on campus had impacted me much more than I had anticipated. Here’s why.
When the weight of a global topic feels too big — too daunting, too insurmountable, too entrenched — people often feel too small. Too small to effect change and too small to lead the way forward.
When the weight of a global topic is tackled via a movement of audacious individuals — who are open and willing to share their stories of successes and struggles, collaborations and innovations — a palpable shift can begin to unfold. The shift from “this feels impossible” to “this feels possible” requires a spark. A spark in energy, in mentors, in collective thought and momentum.
A lot of things went wrong during my semester abroad in Shanghai, China. Specifically with the living abroad part of studying abroad (the academic part is another blog altogether). Some of these mishaps didn’t really have an upside. When I couldn’t find my brand of dry shampoo, for example, there was no miraculous Chinese alternative ... I just used baby powder. But most disasters shook out OK, like when my favorite Korean fried rice place closed earlier than expected and I bought dinner from a nearby food stand I’d have never tried otherwise. It was about 8 kuai cheaper and the best fried rice I’ve ever had, bar none.
All told, these situations led me to try, taste, explore and experience things that I may not have otherwise — and to grow in ways that were never on my agenda.