It’s funny. I’m sitting here, in an airport, reflecting on these past two years as I prepare to make this journey for the last time. Two years ago, I remember arriving in this very airport quite terrified and intimidated. Now I sit here, feeling quite relaxed (and quite tired, as it’s the middle of the night because that is the ONLY time flights seem to leave here) waiting for the flight that finally takes me home for good.
Two years ago before I began this journey, I wrote myself a letter in one of my very first posts. (see original post here) As I await this much anticipated, and looooong flight home, I want to take a moment to write this girl back. The one that sat home day, after day, waiting for the flight that would bring her here to start this crazy and fascinating chapter in her life.
Dear Future Ali…..or Dear Ali in the year 2014….عزيزعلي (just in case I am now fluent in Arabic)
Nope- not fluent. You learned about 20-30 basic words, but your students liked to giggle at you when you tried to pronounce them correctly. You tried, however, and they appreciated you for it.
You are a week out of leaving the continent. You are heading to a place actually hotter than Phoenix. You are leaving your husband, family, and friends here. Scared now? DUH. But are you scared in 2014? OR are you sad to be moving back to the U.S.? Here are things I am scared about now. First off, let’s address the whole, “getting arrested” issue. Really? However, it is the Middle East. Hm, I know not to eat or drink in public during Ramadan. I know not to kiss, hug, hold hands, or even bat my eyelashes with my husband when he visits. I know not to discuss politics or religion…..I don’t even do that here! So aside from racking up a bunch of debt- I think I’m good? (ok, so in case I could get arrested for even joking about that last statement, let’s be clear- the only debt I’m racking up is here in the states….which brings me to my next fear……)
First of all, no- you aren’t scared anymore. You have frustrations with language barriers occasionally and the very different way things work here, but scared? No. And yes, you are a bit sad to leave. But only because you really like the person you have become here, and don’t want to lose that feeling. Oh, yeah- and you didn’t get arrested!
I’m BROKE! Not having any income for a 6 week summer is one thing. But now, I have a 3 MONTH summer. My Bill Me Later and credit card company LOVE me at the moment. I’m hoping that I will start crawling out of debt once the first couple of paychecks hit my bank account and then perhaps I can start *gasp* saving money????
Ok, who were you kidding with the whole “saving money” thing? Some things never change! However, you always paid your bills back home, and still had money left over to enjoy your life here. You were also quite indulgent at times (don’t get me started on the whole “brunching” phenomenon!). And you traveled! You went to places like the Black Forest in Germany, went on a safari in Kenya, rode an elephant in Sri Lanka and watched the sunrise over the Himalayas. No worries…..you can deal with that credit card when you get home. OOPS!
What about the actual job??? I have no idea if and how the students there will be completely different than the students here. I’m sure some things are universal. Right??
Your students were actually quite similar to your students back home. They came with a slightly different set of challenges, but they were still children. And you loved them………..even when they made you insane.
Then there’s that whole living alone situation. Let’s face it- I’m 40 years old and live within 3 miles of where I grew up. I have never lived on my own. I break out into hives just having my husband do a practice run on how to set up my Internet once there. Let’s not even mention what to do when the first creepy-crawly shows up in my apartment. I’m not sure calling the husband to fly 14+ hours to fulfill his bug catching marital vow will fall under the term “practical.” (Yes, that was a vow. Mine was to clean the litter box.) Ok-joking aside, this will be the hardest part of this journey. I love my family and friends and am scared to be so far away for what seems like such a long time.
Yeah, this was difficult. The night the car park collapsed in your apartment complex and they evacuated you all to a hotel was pretty traumatic. You were pretty scared, but you survived it. You learned how to trust your instincts more and figure things out on your own. You learned how to be a problem solver. Um- you still hate bugs. Fortunately, you lived on the 18th floor, so they left you alone!
So, I looked up the stages for what a person will go through whilst working abroad:
1. Honeymoon Stage (aka- vacation time!)
This really didn’t hit until about a month in. Once Ramadan was over, and the place started to come to life, you perked up and ventured out to see more.
2. Culture Shock: (aka- the Rejection Period!)
Oh yeah- there were many times like this throughout the 2 years. What changed over that time was learning who to align yourself with that helped you understand the culture here instead of making you feel bad for not knowing. There was one person who in particular that was amazingly open in answering questions you had about the religious practices and beliefs of this country. She became a very good friend to you, and she has a very special place in our heart.
3. Initial Adjustment Stage (aka- everything I know is wrong)
Yeah, yeah- see above.
4. Mental Isolation (aka- watching sad movies in Arabic and not leaving apartment)
You had some feel-sorry-for-yourself days. There were days that the thought of staying two years seemed quite unbearable. It became a lot easier as you developed a strong circle of friends that got you out of your own head and out of your apartment. It’s ok to have days when you when you are feeling low. What’s important to remember is that those days don’t define you. It’s how you pull yourself up that does.
5. Acceptance and Integration (aka- this is pretty amazing)
Yeah. By the end of the first year, you were really enjoying the benefits of living here! By the second year, most things were quite familiar. It was really great to have family come out to see you so you could play tour-guide!
Ok, 5 stages. I can do this. Only, can I do all the stages in one month??????
As for fear, dear future self, remember what you learned in your martial arts training? Courage isn’t about NOT having fear, but doing something in spite of it.
SO THERE. I’ll bet you are doing well in Stage 5. I will look forward to meeting you there. Until now, I will look forward to taking my fear on and knocking it down.
Sincerely, Me…..the one that is patiently waiting to travel out there
Hey-you’re a lot tougher of a broad than you thought. The lessons you learned here will follow you throughout your life. Lessons like learning that relationships are more important than business. It is really the M.O. of this country, and when you stopped being so impatient, you saw the benefits of this and began making more friends with the people around you that came from all over the world. The perspectives you gain from this is a very powerful thing. Also, it is imperative you keep a positive attitude. If you look for the good in situations and people- you will find them. If you look for the faults – you will also find them. That thought kept you afloat these two years.
You also got a small idea of what it feels like to be the minority in the room and felt the injustice of being treated differently due to your background, religion or language. I hope you hold on to how this feels, and become an advocate for the individuals that may feel this same way when they are in America.
These two years were difficult at times….many times….yet, ultimately rewarding. You leave this country a little wiser, a little stronger, and a little OLDER!
You did good, kid.
Now- go home.