Thursday, May 31, 2012

Exchange Programs and Real Life

One of the biggest things I read about is how exchange programs get people ready for other opportunities, whether they're abroad or at home. This summer, I'll be living in Iowa working at a special needs camp (exact location classified: aren't you proud, Cat?). I've worked as a counselor before, and decided I'd love to spend another summer as a counselor. I get paid in smiles and sunshine, and I'll be making enough money to pay for my ticket to Swaziland - what more could I wish for?

Anyways, here's a "top five" list of sorts, of how having studied in Jordan (or anywhere abroad) will make camp easier. I guess it's kind of a "things-you-gain-from-exchange-that-can-help-you-elsewhere" list.

  1. Living with other people: While in Jordan, I lived with a host family and in an apartment building. After that, I have no qualms about living in a cabin with a bunch of other people. Can't leave my stuff in the bathroom? No problem. Very little privacy? No problem.
  2. Very little sleep, can't be tired during the day: In Jordan, we'd stay up late with the host families, as it was their summer, but then we had to wake up early to catch the bus for Arabic classes in the morning, and we couldn't allow ourselves to be tired during school. Running on very little sleep definitely won't be an issue at camp.
  3. Being away from home: I didn't really have any problems with homesickness in Jordan, so it's not that, it's just that after living in the Middle East for seven weeks, going to Iowa for ten weeks just doesn't seem like a big deal at all.
  4. New people: While studying abroad, everyone you meet is someone that you have virtually no connections to. They don't know you, or your friends, or your family. It's a strange/amazing situation that you end up, able to interact with new people like that. Camp? Same thing.
  5. Attitude: While on exchange, you've got to have an open mind and a smile on your face, whatever goes wrong. A good rule of thumb is that nothing's a real problem unless you decide it's a problem. Otherwise, it just remains an amusing challenge. The same mentality applies at camp. Both situations require an attitude made of open-mindedness, optimism, determination, and just going-with-the-flow.
There are plenty of other things gained from exchange that are not so easily put into words, but these are a few examples. I've gotten several messages from people going to Jordan with NSLI-Y American Councils, and it makes me so excited to see more people leaving for something that is so important to me. It's strange, while I know that my experiences in Jordan were unique, there's something nice about knowing that you're part of a community of people who have been in similar situations. I guess that's not just NSLI-Y Jordan though, that's a feeling that everyone who has ever studied abroad shares.

Well, now I'm just packing for my summer in the foreign, exotic land of Iowa. I'm pleasantly surprised though, that I'm just as excited for ten weeks working at camp as I was for seven weeks in Jordan. NSLI-Y made my summer really amazing, and now I'm looking forward to the chance to help make someone else's summer amazing.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Living in the New Normal

Maybe this has been on our fridge for a while, but I just noticed it, and it made me laugh.

All done with AP testing, so now I have less than a week of high school, at least for this year. Still trying to figure out exactly what I'm doing in the fall, because I'm not leaving until January, but whatever happens, it'll be awesome!

Oh, and 22 days until I leave for Iowa for the summer. I'll be gone... ten weeks? twelve weeks? I should probably figure that one out. I'm sure there's an email somewhere around here...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Call to Prayer

I uploaded this to Youtube for a French presentation I'm giving in class tomorrow, but figured I'd post it here as well. There just really aren't very many good recordings of the call to prayer in Amman posted, and I think it's too lovely not to hear. This is only a really short clip of it, less than thirty seconds, but it's so beautiful.

And so, I present to you, the call to prayer, as heard from the speakers of Husseini Mosque, fi al-balaad, in Amman, Jordan.

Official Rejection and Facebook Pictures

I'm proud to say that I received my official rejection email from NSLI-Y; after several weeks of being an "alternate," it's all over. Sob, sob, sob.

Oh wait, you mean I already have other summer plans figured out, and I'm leaving for Swaziland soon afterwards? Right, right.

But in all actuality, I'm really just happy now for the people who get to go this year, so here's to hoping they learn as much about the Middle East and themselves as I did last year.

The funny thing was, I see that, and then I get on Facebook, and the first thing on my newsfeed is a picture of the program director for NSLI-Y Jordan, in Jordan, hanging out with my host family on their planning trip. AHHH I MISS THEM SO MUCH! It was a whole bundle full of "Wait, our director is in Jordan? Oh right, planning trip. Hey, I know that couch... I KNOW THOSE PEOPLE! THEY'RE MY FAVORITES!!!"

Anyways, just a week and a half left of school, and I leave to cross the treacherous Iowa border on June 9th!

Monday, May 7, 2012

End of the Year

This is a strange combination of everything... AP tests have started, so I'm on my last round of AP tests, but not my last semester of AP classes, as I'm signed up for AP classes for first semester this fall, but will be in Swaziland for the tests. Colleges keep sending me emails about applying early in the fall, and I just keep hitting delete, while at the same time my classmates are starting to think more and more about it. I have a terrible case of senioritis, but then realized that I'm not even going to graduate from high school for another couple years. It's like there's this growing canyon between what I'm excited for next year and what everyone else is excited for next year. I'm going to Africa; they're going to Prom. I'm getting a plane ticket; they're getting a senior parking pass to park on campus. I'm gearing up for two more years; they're ready to be done already. It's not that my way is better, or theirs is better, it's just that they're increasingly different.

I'm definitely really excited though. I haven't really gotten very much information at all from the UWC - we're assuming that they're working on the people who leave in August (aka everyone else), and then I'll be getting more info once that's straightened out. It's weird to think that I might be the only one from the US starting in Swaziland in January. There are two US kids who are going to be my "second years," but I haven't heard from anyone else who will be a "first year" with me. Should be a grand adventure either way!

Speaking of grand adventures, I leave for my grand adventure to Iowa in just about a month. I'll be there for... ten weeks? Eleven weeks? Something like that - I'm working at a special needs camp all summer there, and I'm really looking forward to that as well! (So many things to look forward to!) It's also really strange how leaving for eight weeks last summer seemed like an eternity - an amazing eternity, but still an eternity - and now it doesn't even seem like that long to leave for eleven weeks. I guess with two years in Swaziland coming up, measuring things in weeks just makes it sound short.

Gotta go study for AP tests! Good luck to everyone with theirs, and good luck to the IB students with those tests! I barely even know what IB is like, but I suppose I'll be feeling your pain with those tests soon enough!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Packing Tips for NSLI-Y (and other study abroad)

So, there has been a little (lot) bit of freaking out about packing, and how much to pack, and what to pack. This is a run-down, in a handy dandy Q&A form, for everyone who is freaking out about packing. I mean, come on guys. You're capable young adults, going abroad for the summer/year. You can handle filling a suitcase.

(Note: NSLI-Y official rules of packing (at least my understanding) - summer guys, you get one checked bag. Year, you get two. Fifty pounds (MAX) for each. Plus your carry-on.)

Q: How much should I pack?
A: One (two, for year, if you need it) suitcase(s) that weigh less than fifty pounds, plus a carry on bag. Rule of thumb? You have to be able to carry all your luggage (BY YOURSELF) up a mountain and back to get to and from your house with it. Oh wait... that was reality in Jordan. Still a good rule of thumb!

Q: Is 50 pounds going to be enough?
A: Yes. Although shoot for 30 or 40 if you can, just to leave plenty of space for souvenirs and such. If you're a book person, or are planning on getting a particular heavy object, leave more space, as these items weigh more than you'd expect.

Q: Do we have to wear long pants/skirts if we're going to the Middle East?
A: Yes. You're ambassadors of the United States, like it or not. That's what you get for accepting a US government sponsored scholarship. Therefore, be modest, and learn to love the long pants. I promise, when you get back to the states, you'll be in shock at the haraam clothing of American teenagers ;)

Q: How do you pack for a whole year?
A: The same as you pack for the summer. Laundry exists, you know. You don't have to bring another outfit for every day!

Q: How big should my suitcase be?
A: Rule of thumb? Don't be an idiot. You'll know if your suitcase is too big if you can't carry it out the door by yourself. Just make it big enough to bring what you need, and no bigger. (Although, if you're a big shopping/souvenir person, leave extra room. I had enough room for souvenirs after giving my host family their presents, but that might not be the case for you).

Q: How many outfits should I bring?
A: Enough for one week - you can do laundry. Or follow the "rule of fives." Five tops, five bottoms, five pairs of socks, five pairs of underwear, and so on.

Q: How do I make all these clothes fit?
A: Don't fold pants, just put them flat at the bottom of the suitcase. Roll t-shirts like this. Put anything that's not cooperating in a Ziploc bag, and zipper it when you're sitting on it to squish out all the air. Put your socks and underwear inside gym shoes so that you don't waste the space.

Q: What do I put in my carry-on?
A: Heavy things, because your carry-on isn't weighed, but your checked bag is. This includes books, and any sort of large metal jewelry, if you have a lot of that.

Q: What should I do for luggage locks?
A: You really don't need to lock anything, but if you want to you can buy a luggage lock at Target or Walmart. Just make sure it says that it's TSA approved on the package.

Q: What about bringing back souvenirs?
A: If you know you're a big shopper, leave room. If you're not, the space that "opens up" after giving your host family their presents should be enough, depending on what the presents are.

Q: What will I bring back to the States when I'm done?
A: Souvenirs, of course. But most likely you'll end up leaving a lot of your clothes that you brought with to the host country, in the host country. In some cases it's to make more room for a souvenir that you now like more than that old t-shirt, or because you're just barely over the weight limit. Our group created a significant pile of clothing items that stayed in Jordan after we left, so don't be surprised if ou find yourself leaving lots of clothes behind. As such, pack accordingly, and try not to be emotionally attached to every piece of clothing you pack :D

Q: AHHHH WHAT ABOUT _________ ?!?!?!?
A: Do you need it? Yes? Bring it. No? Don't. Easy as that.

HAVE FUN PACKING EVERYONE! Even though I'm not going with NSLI-Y this summer, packing just makes me excited. Plus, I still have to pack for eleven weeks of camp this summer, and packing to go to Swaziland is right around the corner!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Things I'm Wondering

I'm sure that all of these will be answered soon enough, assuming they'll give me a packet of information about the school and everything. It's strange - I thought I knew SO much about the school when I was at the interview, but now it's been occurring to me that I know oh-so little about anything. So, here goes!

In no particular order... and this is definitely an incomplete list...

  1. How exactly do you pronounce Mbabane? Em-ba-ban?
  2. What classes have the best field trips? Best teachers?
  3. How many suitcases do people bring?
  4. Would it be better to ship or check my tuba as luggage?
  5. What exact day are we leaving?
  7. Do I even have a co-year from the US?
  8. If I do, who are you, and can we coordinate flights?
  9. Who are my roommates going to be?
  10. Are those "traditional Swazi huts" on the UWC website dorms?
  11. Do I get to live in one?
  12. What am I going to do this fall before I go?
  13. What am I going to do when I get back?
  14. What is class going to be like? Small? Big? Aliens?
  15. Will I like it there?
Psh, that last one is silly. I decided before going to Jordan that homesickness and comfort in a new place is a choice. All you have to do is decide that you're not going to be homesick, and that you're going to love wherever you're going. And POOF - you love it there. It works, at least so far, at least for me. I figure it's a mindset thing. We'll see if it works again. As of now though, I'm just really, really excited, and thinking that January is simply too far away. I've had people ask me if I'm nervous, and I guess I'm just not. I see no reason to be nervous - I'm starting at a really awesome school, with really awesome people! What's there to be nervous about?

I wish I knew the exact day I was leaving so I could start a countdown! I LOVE countdowns...