Anxiety. All I felt was anxiety. What if I miss my flight? What if I get lost at the Frankfurt airport? Until I arrived at my new home in Strasbourg, France, I felt anxious. I anticipated I would feel relief once I had settled in, but this was not the case. Anxiety set in again. What if I struggle in my courses? What if my roommate and I do not get along? After about a week of these existential crises, now I feel most prepared and ready to immerse myself within my program and this experience.
Last Saturday, June 23, I began my Global Leadership program in Strasbourg, France. Historically, this city has gone back and forth through the hands of Germany and France, but now Strasbourg essentially belongs to all of Europe. Along with Berlin, this city is known as the capitol of Europe and is home to the Council of Europe, European Parliament and the European Court of Human Rights. Beyond the relevance of Strasbourg, France itself remains so dynamic. Over a year has passed since the nation broke the trend of rising nationalism and elected Emmanuel Macron, a social libertarian, as their president. While applying for the program, I could barely contain my excitement. Over the course of 5 weeks, I will be living in this lively, political city and will be taking 2 courses: one on intercultural communication, and another on leadership. I will be immersed in human rights, diplomacy and political relations, and I will be engaged in discourse and conversations regarding the future and globalization!
Well rather, this is what I thought. I cannot direct blame at one specific factor for what I felt. Did I let social media get to me, where I believed everyone enjoyed every second of being abroad and it was all perfect and seamless? Did I set such high expectations for this experience that I inevitably disappointed myself? Did I already miss my mom? Upon arrival at my new home, I realized that we are not located in the heart of the city, rather we are located deep in the woods. I realized too that we are not taking courses at a University, but rather in rooms inside of the hotel we are living in. This led me to realize that I would not be meeting or interacting with any other students other than the 12 fellow students in my program. And all of a sudden, it occurred to me that I painted a close minded fantasy in my head of what this experience must be like, and I did not leave space for this experience to be located in a more discrete location, with fewer students.
After taking some time to reflect over the weekend, I felt calmer and ready to begin the program. For the following week, I was met with ignorant and hateful comments from one of my professors. Although this was meant to be a course on intercultural communication, this professor only talked about his beliefs of the Middle East and Islam. The class periods were comprised of the professor comparing Islam to terrorism, voicing his disapproval of the hijab, and telling students that Middle Eastern women have no rights. As a practicing Muslim from the Middle East, I did not receive these comments well. Again, I felt the fantasy in my head fall apart. I was worried about being far from the city, never that I’d be in a class with a professor that outwardly voices his hatred for my community. After compromising with the program, I will be taking another course with a different professor instead. I think that I am now officially ready to start my experience here.
Over the course of the last week, we have visited the European Parliament, watched parliament members debate at the Council of Europe, and spoke with the U.S. Consulate General in Strasbourg. We have visited Le Petit France, and just yesterday, I was sitting in Parc Champ de Mars, watching the Eiffel Tower light up in front of me. I visited the Louvre Museum, saw the Louvre Pyramid, and the Arc de Triomphe.
I come from Queens, New York, as the child of two immigrants from Afghanistan. I did not ever anticipate sitting in front of the Eiffel Tower at 19 years old, with two friends that I met last week. Funny enough, I felt anxious again. I felt overwhelmed. Blessed. Fortunate. I don’t think I can find a word to capture the humility I felt, as one of the world’s wonders lit up the dark night in front of me. I cannot thank FEA enough for this opportunity, for letting me see things that I have only ever saw pictures of. I wanted to use this first post to be frank and open with myself. Studying abroad is not exactly as Instagram pictures make it out to be; this is an experience that I am in charge of. I am so fortunate to be here, so humbled and excited, but only after I took a week to reign myself back in. I anticipate that my blog posts from here on out will be more light-hearted and informative, so I can focus on what I will learn in courses and excursions. But I have learned a lot about myself this last week. My friends have always told me that studying abroad is life changing, and now I have opened my mind, heart, and life to this experience.
These are the flags of all the countries that are part of the European Council.
This is the view that changed my perspective finally. Do not believe it when someone says the Eiffel Tower is underwhelming!