Sunday, December 30, 2012

2nd Annual NSLI-Y New Year's Eve

NSLI-Y is probably going to shoot me for saying this, but in the long-run, for most of the students, NSLI-Y isn't about learning the language. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I know that my Arabic skills have plummeted from where they were when I ended the program. I won't make excuses about it - but my Arabic right now is simply not fantastic.

There are two other big things that you gain from exchange programs - the cultural immersion and understanding, and the friendships. Oftentimes, I think that the friendships get overlooked. My NSLI-Y group consisted of fifteen high schoolers from across the United States - who happen to be some of the most amazing people that I know, and some of my closest friends.

It's strange now, because NSLI-Y was years ago for me. And while my language skills have faded, the friendships have not. Between Skype, Facebook, and intermittent reunions when we figure out a weekend and scrape together the money for bus tickets, we've kept in amazingly good touch for a group scattered from sea to shining sea.

A few days before we left Jordan, I remember sitting around in our apartment building, kind of daydreaming about how we'd spend New Year's Eve together once we were back in America. At the time, I didn't really think it would happen, but sure enough, I spent my last moments of 2011 and first moments of 2012 with my "Jordan habibtis."

Wonderfully enough, it's happening again this year! It's the last day of 2012, and I'll be spending the last hours, minutes, and seconds of the year with the same habibtis I started it with. It's changed from a "surprised-that-this-is-actually-happening" excited to a "warm-fuzzy-I-love-that-this-family-reunites-every-year-and-I-just-want-to-hug-everyone" excited, but a wonderful excited nonetheless.

Yo, habibtis, I CAN'T WAIT TO SEE YOU ALL! Those of you who can't be there, especially Sera, who is a hoss and on the year-long NSLI-Y trip to Morocco, I miss you. We'll be thinking of you guys as we ring in 2013 here in Chicago!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Time to ACTUALLY Pack!

WARNING: This post is me literally sitting here and deciding what to bring to Swaziland, so it's pretty detailed. If you're someone leaving for exchange, looking for a detailed post about packing - you found it! Oh, and just so you know, this is more of a "what" to pack post. I'll probably write a "how-to-get-all-this-stuff-to-fit" post once I actually start packing.

If you're not really into this packing stuff, I apologize. I'm looking forward to getting to Swaziland and finally having real culture posts again, but these next two weeks are going to be a lot of "hey-look-I'm-an-exchange-student-getting-ready" posts.

Now that my flight leaves in exactly two weeks, I should probably start actually packing, instead of the random putting things in and out of my backpack that I've been doing since August.

First of all, you should probably know that while I am a girl, my packing list looks suspiciously like a guy's. I have a buzz cut, which eliminates the "hair" category on a packing list, and I don't wear make-up, wear jewelry (except for earrings), have bunches of different pairs of shoes, and so on.

(note: It doesn't matter if you're going away for three months or a year - laundry exists. You pack enough clothes for about two weeks either way).
The biggest thing to remember when making a packing list is to MAKE ONE and to STICK TO IT. That way, you never end up throwing random things into your suitcase.

CLOTHING: As far as packing goes, I'm planning on wearing jeans, socks, gym shoes, a t-shirt, hoodie, scarf, and belt on the plane. Everything that you wear doesn't need to fit into a suitcase, and between leaving from Chicago in the wintertime and overly air-conditioned planes, I'm hoping it's not overkill. Oh, and again, remember, LAUNDRY EXISTS!
  1. T-Shirts: I'm bringing 15 (two weeks' worth). They're easy to pack. I recommend rolling them.
  2. Shorts: Swaziland has its warm times, so I'm planning on bringing three or four pairs of shorts. I usually opt for basketball shorts, but whatever you do, just try to bring shorts you can wear with many different tops, so that bright pink pair of booty shorts? Probably not worth putting in the suitcase.
  3. Jeans: I know they're heavy, but they're useful. I'm planning on packing one pair, and wearing one pair on the plane. For most people, I'd say pack two, but I wear basketball shorts well into Chicago winters, and I'm assuming I'm going to be able to handle most Swazi weather in basketball shorts.
  4. Sweatshirts: They're obnoxious, but necessary. I'm going to wear my heaviest hoodie, and pack probably two more. I honestly only wear hoodies; if you're a fashion-y sweater person, I suppose you'd want more variety, but I got nothing to help you. I wear t-shirts and sweatshirts... so, uh, don't ask me for advice on packing fashionable clothes. Oh, and for packing, put your bulky sweatshirts into freezer Ziplocs, sit on them to squeeze the air out, and them zip them shut - instant space bags!
  5. Footwear: I wear flip-flops most of the time, even in Chicago winters. Therefore, I'm bringing two pairs of flip-flops, wearing my bulky gym shoes when travelling, and packing a pair of Converse. I'm bringing three pairs of socks. That seems like nothing, but I can do laundry, and buy more if need be. But honestly, I wear flip-flops, so socks aren't an everyday thing. I'm also bringing one pair of black heels to use for all dress occasions. When packing, I recommend putting all your shoes into plastic bags, whether grocery bags or Ziplocs. No matter how good you think your feet smell, you'll be happy you don't have to wash all your clothes right when you arrive, just to stop them from smelling like feet.
  6. Dress clothes: Gross. I hate dressing up. But, I am bringing a pair of black slacks, two dress shirts, and a fitted suit jacket. I figure with an array of scarves, I can make a couple different dress outfits out of that.
  7. Scarves: I am bringing lots of scarves - they work as blankets on a cold plane, shawls in a conservative neighborhood, and a bit of color. Also, when wearing jeans and a t-shirt, sometimes a well-wrapped scarf convinces people I put more effort into my outfit than I actually did. So yeah, ten or more scarves. Scarves are easy to pack - fold them neatly (doesn't hurt to iron out the wrinkles first), place them all together in a freezer Ziploc bag, sit on it to squeeze the air out, and zip it shut.
  8. Other: Underwear/bras (hopefully a 'duh'), a few neutral colored tank-tops, a swimsuit, a few floor-length skirts (for certain circumstances where Swazi culture just requires it) and a belt. Oh, and I think I'm supposed to bring an American "national costume," which I'm still figuring out. There isn't really a standard American "traditional cultural dress."
I would never pack this much for a three-month exchange. I feel ridiculous bringing this much, but I don't think I'm bringing anything I won't use. Listed out, it's a lot though. (Just going to take a moment right here to check my privilege and be thankful).
  1. Laptop and charger
  2. iPod and charger
  3. External hard drive and cord
  4. Memory card reader and cord
  5. Waterproof camera, battery pack, and charger
  6. Nice "photographer" camera, two battery packs, and charger
  7. USB drive
  8. Plenty of SD memory cards and cases
  9. Outlet adaptors
Packing a lot in this category is absurd. Pack whatever you want, but be aware that eventually, you're going to have to go out and buy some of the local stuff. Don't plan on packing enough for the entire time you're there, unless it's a summer program. Even then, try the local toothpaste, deodorant, or whatever. That's part of the adventure! Here's what I'm bringing
  1. One tube of toothpaste, two toothbrushes (just because I have a habit of loosing toothbrushes, and will probably loose one while travelling, before I even get to the school. There's a difference between being afraid of local items, and refusing to pay eight dollars for an airport toothbrush).
  2. One thing of deodorant
  3. Um... that's it.
Here's the things that I'm not bringing, and why:
  1. Hairbrush: I have a buzz cut. I highly recommend it - most convenient thing EVER.
  2. Shampoo: I don't think you understand - I have less than a quarter of an inch of hair. I wash my head with a washcloth... shampoo isn't necessary.
  3. Clippers: Here, I cut my own hair every other week with my own pair of clippers. I'm not bring it, just because the voltage doesn't match up, and it's not worth buying a voltage converter to use a five dollar pair of clippers. I'll figure something else out once I get there.
  4. Razors: Can't carry them on, and while I could check some, my checked bag is my tuba... I just figure buying them there is easier. I'm not too picky.
Not really necessary for most exchange programs, but for UWC, I'll be living in dorms, so it's necessary. If you're living with a host family, you really don't need to bring this stuff.
  1. Bedding: UWC asks that I bring two sets of sheets, two pillowcases, a blanket, and a pillow. Sheets and pillowcases are easy enough to pack, and while the blanket is kind of annoying, I decided to bring a big quilt. It's not puffy of anything, which is nice as far as packing goes. It's going to take up a lot of room in my bag nonetheless, but I figure that it'll be nice to have a blanket from here, instead of having to buy some random one there. When packing bedding, I fold everything neatly, and can fit the sheets, pillowcases, and blanket into a 10"x10" plastic cube thing that an old set of sheets came in when we bought them.
  2. Towels: I have one travel "microfiber" towel, which is amazingly teeny-tiny all folded up, but still a decent sized towel unfolded. While I'm probably going to wind up wanting two towels, I'll buy another one there if need be. While I think it's reasonable to want a blanket from home, a towel doesn't work like that, at least for me. I'm packing a washcloth.
  3. Room decorations: Descriptions of empty dorm rooms usually run along the lines of "prison cells." While it's not possible to bring the sorts of stuff people sometimes get for college in the States (rugs, lamps, curtains, funky chairs, microwaves, strings of Christmas lights, etc), I'm still bringing some decorations. For me, that means a full sized Jordan flag, as well as flags from Scotland and England (after spending the summer with the British counselors at camp), as well as some pictures, and a few posters I snagged out of National Geographics. Ironically, I don't think I'll be bringing a United States flag. Whoops!
  4. Dorm necessities: A mug, a spoon, and a flashlight. Easy enough to bring, and while I could buy them there, I think it'll be nice to have a mug from home. And I really don't want to have to go buy a spoon and flashlight there, when those might be the easiest things on my entire packing list.
  1. School supplies: UWC provides stationary and such, but I still need to provide my own pens, pencils, calculator, erasers, and such. I figure I'll bring my calculator, and a few pens and pencils, as well as a few big erasers. It won't take up too much room, but I'm definitely planning on winding up buying more there at some point.
  2. Backpack: My "personal item" on the plane will be my laptop, in my school backpack, so I'll just use that.
  3. A book for the plane. Not sure what yet, but something.
OH, and I'm bringing a tuba, which means I'm bringing a tuba, a hard shell case, several mouthpieces, and a bunch of sheet music, which is hard enough to procure in the States, much less in Africa. So, all this clothing and stuff? It's getting packed around the tuba in the case. I'm literally not bringing a suitcase - just my tuba, a backpack, and a small shoulder bag.  YAY FOR TRYING TO PACK LIGHT AND THEN DECIDING TO BRING A MASSIVE HUNK OF TUNED METAL! Ridiculous, but I after much deliberation I decided that I couldn't bear to just stop playing the tuba.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

NSLI-Y Alumni Lunch... as a high school graduate!

After (finally) graduating from high school yesterday, I had organized a NSLI-Y alumni lunch downtown today, and so spent the day in Chicago. It was myself, two girls who spent this past school year in Russia, one girl who spent the past year in Taiwan, and a girl who just found out she was a semi-finalist for China year. So applicant and alumni lunch, I suppose. Everyone was really wonderful though - it's nice to do this every so often, and just spend a few hours with NSLI-Y people, talking about NSLI-Y things.

It was the weirdest thing though, to introduce myself.

"I'm Diana, I was in Amman for the summer of 2011."
"Do you go to Northwestern?" (I was wearing a Wildcats sweatshirt).
"No, I just graduated from high school." (WHAAAAA?)
"Oh, where do you go to school?"
"Well, when I said just graduated, I meant yesterday, so I'm moving to Swaziland in three weeks."
"Oh, what are you doing there?" (I love how exchange students aren't in shock of anything about those kinds of plans, because everyone has those kinds of plans. It's a welcome break from the dropped jaws I get elsewhere.)
"Just going to study for a couple years to get my IB diploma." (Also love how exchange students don't need me to explain how IB works, and how it's typical in some countries to do high school, college, then university).
"Oh. Cool."


NSLI-Y Alumni in Chicago (Taiwan, Russia, Russia, and myself on the right, repping Jordan)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Last Day.

I was late to my first day of high school. I missed the bus, and had to get a ride to school. After arriving ten minutes past the bell, I frantically found my way... into a senior government class. By the time I finally made it into my freshman world history class, the bell was half an hour gone.

I've never been late to a class again.

While I have to admit that I'm not a really big fan of spending eight hours of day being herded around by a bell system like a flock of two thousand studious sheep, and while it'd be crazy to say that I enjoy sitting in desks too short for my legs in white cinderblock rooms all day, I concede that high school wasn't that bad. I've been in the marching band all four years, so I've never missed a home football game. I've had my fair share of sleepovers, parties, movies, and the like with some amazing friends. I've had the opportunity to take all the AP classes I wanted, with some really cool teachers. I've performed with the best bands and orchestras in the state of Illinois. I've spoken about current events and world politics at high schools around the area.

Sometimes I think that the best things that I do are outside of high school - working at special needs camps, studying abroad in Jordan, and so on. But then, I realize that these things wouldn't even be an option for me if it hadn't been for the time I've spent in these lovely brick walls.

There are a lot of days when I've been at this school from six in the morning, to ten or eleven at night. Doing that for hundreds upon hundreds of days, and I realize that I've spent kind of a lot of time here. Enough time that they're willing to give me this piece of paper saying I did a good enough job to leave. A diploma, I think it's called...

Anyways, today's the last day. I didn't think I'd be sad, and I don't think I'm sad about leaving high school itself. Correction - I'm not at all sad about being done with high school. But as I'm going through the day, having to say good-bye to some pretty awesome people has been hard. It's bittersweet. Really, really bittersweet.

Well, it's third period now, so five periods left and I'll be a high school graduate! Oh, and exactly three weeks until my plane leaves! I can't wait :) Swaziland - here I come!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tsaminmina zangawela, my friends are wonderful!

Yesterday, my friend said she was having a sleepover, just to hang out, and asked if I wanted to come. I said sure, and said I'd probably be there around 8:00, but I had basketball band, so I didn't really know.

I left the basketball game at 8:30. And then I went home and showered, and finally got to her house around 9:15 or 9:30.


So, I walk up to the door and knock. I hear her little sister yell, "MEGHAN! DIANA'S HERE!" Pretty standard greeting, and I can hear the dog barking inside as my friend comes to open the door for me.

I ditch my shoes right inside the door, and we head down into the basement. A few of my friends are just sitting down there, and they jokingly start to lecture me about how I should try to be on time.

I say, "Agh, I'm sorry I had basketball band and -"

But before I finished, a bunch of my other friends jump out from behind the couches and from doorways, yelling "SURPRISE!" Turns out, it wasn't some random hanging out sleepover, but a "good-bye-have-a-good-time-in-Africa-going-away-we-will-miss-you" party.

My friends are pretty awesome. I, on the other hand, was so surprised that I just stood there with my mouth open for a little bit, not sure what to make of all their awesomeness. They had made a big sign that said "Have fun in Africa!" on which my one friend had drawn a lion, a giraffe, and an elephant. They got a cake with "Waka Waka - it's time for Africa!" written on it, and a little plastic monkey stuck in the top.

By that point, I was shocked and embarrassed that I was late, and so happy to have such thoughtful friends, but that wasn't it. They said they got me a going-away present, and I was like "NO! WHY DID YOU GET ME A PRESENT?"

But, it was the best present ever. It was a sort of scrapbook, with a bunch of pages in the front of pictures all the way back through elementary school. That was nice, but then, when I turned the page, there were letters. Lots, lots, lots of letters. They had gone back to all my elementary, junior high, and high school teachers, and asked for them to write me letters. There was a letter in there from my fifth grade teacher, my old choir director, my eighth grade history teacher, my freshman English teacher, my US history teacher, my Mock Trial coach, my old band director, and many others. And then they had included a bunch of pages of letters from all our friends. There are pages, and pages, and pages of wonderful people having written wonderful things. I don't usually cry (that's an absolute lie), but this was a tear-jerker of a book. It literally is the best going away present I could have ever imagined.

My friends are amazing. I have no words for this, but it really means a lot to have this book. This blog post is about a million times less eloquent than these letters.

And then we proceeded to play KEMPS until the early hour of the morning.

I'm going to miss you guys.

4 school days left. 27 days until the plane leaves.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Sometimes I think it's strange how you can be doing something totally unrelated to something else, and then something comes up which is just so perfect as related to that thing that's unrelated to what you're doing.

I was reading for my literature class here, and came across this sentence...

"It is impossible to communicate to you a conception of the trembling sensation, half pleasurable and half fearful, with which I am preparing to depart." -Mary Shelley, 'Frankenstein'

Yup. That's pretty much it. It's nice sometimes to know that someone else has thought the same things as you. Sometimes it's frustrating to know that your emotions lack originality, but in this case, it's nice.

8 days left at LHS. 32 days until my flight leaves. Let's goooooo! :)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

10 Days.

No, not ten days until my flight leaves - it's 37 days until that.

But, I only have ten school days left before I graduate here! (And yes, I'm getting two high school diplomas, one here, and one in Swaziland. Should be interesting trying to plug this stuff into the CommonApp in a couple years...).

And yet, somehow I have to contain myself enough to keep up momentum for these last two weeks of school. Calculus... how I despise you. And then love you. And then despise you...

10 DAYS!