College 101 Dedicated Feature Life

This is why you should study abroad – I went to Madrid

I’ve always been a little hesitant and unsure of myself. When I started telling people that I planned on studying abroad for the Fall 2019 semester in Madrid, I could tell that they were worried. I mean, how was I going to survive alone? I wasn’t fluent in Spanish, I didn’t know anyone else that was in my program, and I don’t exactly have a plethora of common sense – I’m more book-smart. I think that part of it was that they didn’t want me to get my hopes up. Studying abroad could be a really great experience or a really terrible one, and there wasn’t room for anything in between. 

But, I was determined to prove them wrong. I always have been. Ever since I was little I’ve always felt that people saw my capabilities as one-sided. I could do this but never that. To me, it seemed like an expectation thing. No one expected me to be so independent and sturdy, especially when I appeared in front of them as fragile or sensitive.

The truth is that I had never been given the chance to prove myself in this capacity. The second that I took too long or wasn’t doing something precisely the way that someone else would, they took over. And, as a result, I became apprehensive, kind of shy, and extremely nervous. 

However, it turns out that I was right. I had been largely independent all along, and studying abroad was a great idea. I slowly realized that I could do anything I set my mind to, even this, all the while holding on tightly to my emotional tendencies. I learned a lot about myself while basking in the Mediterranean sun. 

During my time in Madrid, I met people and made connections in ways that are indescribable. I don’t know if it is because I finally found myself in a situation in which I was free from implicit restraints and boundaries or if I became a product of my surroundings. But, I am sure of at least one thing, that being that I was entering a moment in which I was young enough to still have the ignorant belief that nothing mattered, but also wise enough to know that everything mattered much more than it had ever before. There were so many things, and so many people, clawing at me and insisting for my attention, and I finally let go.

For the first time I acknowledged the positivism of this sweet, even blissful, point in my life—one that I may never get again. So, I gave in to the extremities. In doing so, the whole world opened up. I found security in empathy, I learned about ambition, self-awareness, and I felt genuine longing for the first time. I spent days dancing in streets that were once touched by Goya, Ernest Hemingway, and Velasquez. I read poems by Pablo Neruda on the metro and I ate TONS of churros con chocolate.

What I found to be the most pivotal about my experience in Madrid, though, would be living in a home-stay. This is where I spent the most time, had the most laughs, and learned the most about myself. The day after landing in Madrid I met my host family and moved into their home. While they didn’t speak any English at all, and whatever Spanish I did know I forgot the second I opened my mouth, we managed to work through it. 

I knew I wanted to build a relationship with them, but before I could do that, I had to conquer my own confidence battle. I had to remind myself that yes, they were strangers with whom I would be living with for months, but I was also a stranger to them. Frankly, we were all in the same boat. Eventually, I got used to their habits, learned their family traditions, and studied their culture until I felt like I belonged there. They made me feel like I was as much a Madrileño as they are.

At dinner, my host parents would always ask about my day, my classes, and if I was up to anything fun. On the weekends, they would recommend countless restaurants or art museums to my friends and I, and then ask me if I liked it the next day. They even comforted me when I felt overwhelmed or insecure. What I appreciated the most, however, is that they actually listened to my stories, which I am sure that I told in broken Spanish, and always seemed interested.

We really grew to love and care for one another. In those four short months I am sure that they watched me grow exponentially. I truly became myself and started to feel comfortable in my own skin. Plus, I came out being able to speak and communicate in Spanish light-years beyond my ability from when I first arrived in Madrid. 

My memories from this time in my life are whole, and they always will be whole. I’m finally able to show off my independence and I’m never turning back. This just goes to show that a little bit of introspection and determination could go a long way. Of course, I was scared to be alone and so far away but I knew that it was what I needed.  Once I convinced myself to just rip off the band-aid my possibilities for personal growth became endless.

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Travel Life

Why you shouldn’t expect a life lesson from every country you visit

The professor stooped down to listen to the middle-aged guide speak. As I trailed behind him, I could see his eager eyes searching for something – a life lesson perhaps- behind the man’s story of mountain farming in Jebel Akhdar. Sighing, he turned away in annoyance as time passed and it seemed he wouldn’t get his lucrative ‘scoop’. It was then as if our visit was suddenly useless. When did traveling and exploring other cultures start to look like this?

Rather than organically exploring out of curiosity, he felt entitled to the stories of the locals.

Traveling to Oman with a ‘culture know-it-all’ led me to rethink the way I have always thought about visiting other countries. The trip was for a class in my freshman year of university. The professor was an old-fashioned, classically-trained man from an esteemed university. On the way to our destination, he prepared my peers and me by lecturing us on respecting the local customs and traditions. He had a fair point. However, he had only briefly stayed in Yemen for a previous trip on which he based all his knowledge on the Gulf. 

I noticed that he treated everyone he encountered as a story waiting to be uncovered for his own personal gain as a writer. Rather than organically exploring out of curiosity, he felt entitled to the stories of the locals. He attempted to teach us to treat the people we met during our visit as case studies.

The places you visit don’t owe you anything.

Ironically, when we actually met with locals– in a totally artificial, awkward ‘home visit’ setup– he completely botched the local traditions. He made them uncomfortable with his incessant interrogation. I sensed their discomfort with his obviously pointed questions about the age of a young girl and her infant daughter. Even though I myself had roots from the region, I still had to reserve my own feelings about what should be accepted as the norm. I needed to be prepared to give myself a chance to see things from their perspective and even unlearn things I thought I knew. 

In the end, he was often reduced to standing sheepishly on the sidelines while some other girls and I conversed with the people we visited. Slowly, they would unconsciously drop their charade of ‘Arab hospitality’ and let loose. When the professor was looking the other way, they promised to add us to a WhatsApp group they made with other women in the neighborhood that they use to share recipes (one of the girls must have noticed how I kept reaching for the chaklama).  

In those moments, I saw clearly how local groups cater to the tourist gaze. Not everything is as authentic as it seems and it is partly our fault. Locals respond to what they expect we want to see. These places want an income from tourist activity so they will exaggerate their cultural identity for us to be interested.

The recent restrictions on travel have made me take a step back and reflect on the normalized, but a deeply problematic, approach to visiting new countries. To visit unknown lands is romanticized. We revel in strange new foods that make your lungs burn. Get lost in cobblestone alleyways at sunset. And pocket the funny travel-related anecdotes in the back of our minds for future dinner parties. Before we get lost in these dreamy notions of travel, I have something to set straight. 

Locals respond to what they expect we want to see. 

Initially, I wanted to write a piece that encouraged people to be open to new experiences. I wanted to preach that there was indeed a world outside of your small town. That there are a plethora of wild, hopeful or tragic stories that are embedded in the diverse people you meet. And while that may be true, feeling entitled to experiencing them just because you got on a plane to visit is not right.

This way of thinking can be incredibly exploitative. Seeing travel as a ‘unique’ learning experience and cure for the soul is almost always linked to non-Western countries. The trope of a white person going to an Asian country to find themselves is saturated in pop culture. Just think of the newly divorced white woman’s motivation to visit India in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. 

Here’s an idea- maybe the locals at your tourist destinations don’t exist to merely serve you in your spiritual journey. The places you visit don’t owe you anything. Its buildings don’t have to speak to your creative mind. Its people don’t have to be the inspiration for your next book. Believe it or not, these countries you temporarily visit is somebody’s permanent home. 

While some may return home with various anecdotes and life lessons from the diverse people they meet on their trips, not all have their expectations met. So simply do not have these expectations for wisdom and revelations or you will inevitably end up disappointed and drained. Personally, I don’t plan ahead a detailed itinerary for my travels, rather opting to let myself explore. I accept that I can’t possibly experience every single thing or person that makes a space special. But isn’t that the beauty of travel?

These countries you temporarily visit is somebody’s permanent home. 

I don’t deny that vacations do offer respite, giving us time off from your day-to-day life back home and the routine of our jobs and schoolwork. Yet, we need to come to terms with the ethical and moral costs of our travels. Every part of the world has changed in some way since globalization. We can’t expect people to hold their traditions and remain as analog desert-dwellers just to appease our curiosity and fascination. The tourist gaze perpetuates a toxic cycle, as developing countries need the income and thus put on a show– one we are not at all entitled to but still expect.

Why put such a complicated pressure on yourself and others? I’m going to stay curious as a traveler, and I hope you do as well, without feeling that we have a right to everything the local culture has to offer. 

Career Now + Beyond

How I overcame the fear of putting myself out there for my writing

I have always been afraid of rejection, or rather fear of failure; of putting myself out there. This is not uncommon, particularly in people that are used to getting good grades in high school and university. In the academic world you know that if you work hard, if you study, you will get good grades. All it takes to “succeed” in academia is to put in the time and tick the right boxes. That is not the case in the real world.

Good grades are not enough.

When I decided that I wanted to start pursuing a career in media and journalism, I thought that I couldn’t write for magazines if I wasn’t hired by them. But I also thought that no magazine would hire me if I didn’t have a portfolio to show. And I had not worked in creating one because I always put coursework as a priority. I realized then that having good grades was not enough when applying for work experiences; good grades and club involvements are great but they don’t make you stand out.

I wanted to be a writer and yet I had nothing to prove that I was good at writing.

When I first told my partner that I wanted to be a writer, I said that that it is my dream job, but I didn’t think I would be able to actually do it because it was too hard an industry to get into. His response shocked me, although it was very simple. He asked me why, he asked what was stopping me from writing.

It was fear, of rejection, of failure.

I realized it was fear. Fear of people not liking my work if it wasn’t approved by a big publisher or newspaper. Fear of coming up with bad ideas because I had no teacher or mentor to give me the “go”. I was afraid of being rejected, of failing. By not putting myself out there, I was protecting myself from being rejected, but I was also keeping myself from success.

So I started pitching articles. I started small, sending short pieces to university magazines and newspapers. Everything started from there. By having a portfolio of published work I was able to apply to positions in those university publications. My portfolio spoke for itself. It spoke of my talent and dedication a hundred times more than just my desire did.

I made a Linkedin account and started reaching people and applying for positions. I didn’t wait for a publication to offer me work the same way that I used to wait for a good grade to be given to me. I asked for work, I pitched ideas.

I have started to write my first novel because I enjoy doing it, regardless of whether I will someday be paid for it. I have started reaching out to people on social media that I admire, and some of them have written back to me. Each message is worth it because if people don’t know you, they won’t give you opportunities.

I rejected myself before others could do it.

I followed and read The Tempest for four years before I dared to apply for its fellowship. For four years I didn’t think I was good enough or professional enough to write for a platform such as this one. I rejected myself before others could do it. I finally put together the courage to apply this year, and it is one of the best things I have ever done. I could have joined earlier  had I not been so afraid to put myself out there.

I am still very much working on overcoming my fear of failure and pushing myself to do the things that I want to do, not just the ones I think I have a chance of being accepted to do. I’m learning to not let guilt or self-doubt keep me from pursuing what I want to do. I’m learning not to wait for others to offer me the opportunities I want because they won’t.

You will only get what you want if you fight for it.

Work Career Now + Beyond

This is why failing at a new job isn’t the end of the world

I started working at a new job. It is perfect for me: remote, so it works with my school and extracurricular schedule, and focuses on writing, which I hope to make a career in. I felt valid in all of the work that I’d done previously, and was excited for the opportunity to impress my new peers. But what I am quickly realizing is that my inexperience truly does hold me back, and I started failing at my new job.

It all started when I missed a two hour orientation meeting. Because of that, I didn’t know any of my assignments, and was several hours behind my peers. I knew this is a mistake that was going to be difficult to come back from. When you fall behind, there is a snow ball effect of work piling up, but also relying on the work before it. This is especially true when its your first day. For example, my assignment for the week was to complete an article, but I didn’t know how to write a pitch, format an image, or use the website for draft writing. So one task is really four.

With all of this work on my plate, and even more on it’s way, I struggled to find a way to still be ‘good’ at my job. And I have no idea if I accomplished that, or if I will ever accomplish that. There is a lot of uncertainty when you’re young and learning, especially when you’re new. At jobs, you get more work, not validation. When you turn something in, you don’t get an A, and you don’t get told good job. My editors tell me how to improve, and I am expected to do so. 

I don’t mean that to sound harsh. Its a reality I am dealing with, too. There is a feeling of never being good enough, never doing anything right, and never knowing whats going on that is fundamental to learning. I am not experienced, so I should not expect myself to be perfect, or even to do things right. This is a learning experience, and I should treat it as such. 

Something I am learning, and consistently reflecting upon in this job, is that education is so different from reality and that your reality is always changing. My reality, for my whole life, has been the classroom.

The degree of difficulty changes, and there are major shifts as you age up and learn more, but a classroom is a classroom. At the end of the day, I know to turn my homework in and work on getting an A. I am good at that, and I know the routine. But now I am not in a classroom, I am in the work force, and I am still learning. But learning through experience is so different than learning through a textbook. And it is so important to acknowledge that shift.

So with all of this work, and a small existential crisis on my hands, I had no choice but to ask for help. I emailed my supervisor, and did my best to get caught up quickly with the information she gave me. But because I have only ever been a student, I had to learn another lesson: supervisors are not here to chastise me. The process is slow. I’ve been making mistakes along the way. And I’m still incredibly and perpetually stressed about getting everything done. But that does not mean that my supervisors are not supportive, and have been extremely patient with me. 

The take away from all of this is I guess three-fold. First off, moving from the classroom to an internship is hard, and more people should admit that. Secondly, that making mistakes along the way (as long as you learn from them) is okay. And lastly: find a company with supervisors that will support you. Because at the end of the day, I wouldn’t have written this article without their support.

Books Pop Culture

What the quick rise of e-books means for the future of reading, and why you should be worried

Imagine if one day you woke up to see each filled bookshelves in the world replaced by a single e-book.

Books, writing, storytelling… these forms of expression were the foundation of entertainment for humankind. Over the centuries, history has shown how “entertainment” has now evolved to cover a spectrum of categories. However, books have remained a core aspect of what we consider necessary to grow our minds and hearts. The knowledge gained through the physical experience of reading a book remains unmatched to this day. Our childhoods are reminiscent of holding a book upright in our hands, turning the pages, our finger following each sentence, and our attention captured by the words.

As our lives move faster and the world develops at this hyper rate, our time has become more valuable than ever, and we are inclined to take the shortcut, the convenient or – in simpler words – the quickest way out. I myself am guilty of this habit, having owned Kindle. For a while it was great. My bags were lighter; the tablet was easy to carry. I no longer had to make my way to a bookstore to purchase a book. But as time passed, I realized that the transformative experience I would have when reading a good book was no longer there.

That entire vibe – turning the corner of a page to mark where I had read till, annotating my thoughts in the margins, underlining my favorite parts, the culmination of the experience that is difficult to put in words – had disappeared.

E-books are a false promise in replicating the reading experience. Often, I hear of the many advantages of e-books, such as cheaper prices and no waste of paper. And let’s not forget the increased ability of people to self-publish without having to go through the competitive process of pitching to a big publishing house. This has allowed more individuals of varying literary capabilities to choose writing as their career. Subsequently, this leads to more books being available to read regardless of whether they fit the general publishing criteria or not.

As our electronic libraries grow larger, our neighborhood libraries grow emptier, and the people running them start to lose their jobs. A traditionalist will argue saying that although change is inevitable, and to move forward, development must keep happening. But how can such a fundamental part of our history, representing some of the greatest minds of all time, be wiped away by words on a screen? Walking into a bookstore with the excitement of finding a new book to read, taking it with you and discovering what the first few pages make you think, and finally, that feeling of turning to the last page, savoring those final words and finishing your journey with that book. There is something so humane in this.

Sometimes I like to describe the times we live in as having taken shape of famous people who’ve lived. 2018 was a long Britney Spears… a series of highs and lows. But with an objective look at things, technology seems to make me feel as if the world is slowly edging towards a Star Wars Millennial Falcon, walking talking robots revolution, and that we, the people, are stuck in this transition of embracing the new.

But is there not any way to grow whilst still holding onto our roots? It would be a shame if, in the years to come, people could not see past a screen. Perhaps the point I’m trying to make is not as problematic for you as it is for me. Perhaps you welcome all the change without thinking it necessary to retain what we know. But I hope that at the very least, you take away a crucial thought from my words. That in the grand scheme of things, depleting books from our lives means depleting them from future generations.

And if you are somebody for whom the physical experience of reading a book has had an impact on your life, then you too will know the importance of keeping the old, no matter how much new.

Gender & Identity Life

Given up on your resolutions already? Here’s how to get back on track

Why do so many of us, including myself, never stick to our resolutions? I think I have been able to deduce a reasonable explanation and hopefully, this will give y’all an insight as to “how to stick to them resolutions.”

We are all familiar with the fact that “keeping up with resolutions is never easy.” Come four months into the year, we’ve already forgotten or tried our best to dismiss them. But why do we do that?

Because we have neglected to remember, our reasons for keeping them in the first place!

I mean, the idea for our resolutions must have stemmed from some thought or a particular occurrence that was significant enough to make us take on such a challenge, beginning New Year’s Eve. Somehow…they did occur to us at some point and in that split second, we make that brave decision to set it as our resolution.

We convince, encourage and warn ourselves to stick to them before the new year hits us… but yet, my doubt is a simple one. Why is it so important at the beginning, and not so much as the year progresses?

It is important for us, as individuals to understand the reasons behind keeping such resolutions. For some… it’s either a bad habit to break, maintaining one’s happiness or just learning something new.

But I noticed something different this year… Every morning, I wake up and actually look forward to sticking to mine. I realized… It’s because of my perceptions of setting these particular resolutions; how I came about to wanting to achieve these short-term goals.  Those perceptions are what fuels me, to fulfill them everyday. So to help ya’ll understand this a little more, I thought I’d share some of my reasons.

Now, as a book lover, I obviously simply adooooore books! I love the idea of getting lost in a completely unrealistic world, where my only battles are between mythical creatures and the ‘tragic love triangle’ I’ve mysteriously found myself in. Or where I get to experience solving, first-hand ‘crimes of passions’ and many other unsolved mysteries… You know what I’m talking about. My point being that I completely lose track of time when I read, which is absolutely blissful for me. However I never make time for it anymore and that’s my biggest regret. I always tell myself, that if I do start a book; I might just simply not bother picking it up again, due to being super busy. But I had forgotten how good reading was for me and how calm it usually kept me. Lost between making time for either work or university, I can’t remember the last time I had read a book!

So I took it upon myself to realize how precious reading is to me and decided to make it a priority! No more interruptions, no more excuses!

book read GIF
[Image Description: A gif of a girl reading a book.] Via giphy
And ever since I started this resolution of mine.. I have noticed how I’ve balanced along my time, giving equal priority to my reading and its absolutely a beautiful feeling! I had observed how after establishing my ‘reasons’ for making this a resolution, it has helped me keep it up!

The second resolution I’ve stuck hard to has been to upload a new blogpost every week. I am going to be very honest here, this has been, by far, the toughest! The constant thoughts of “what should I write about next” and “does anyone really care about what I write” run through my aimless mind, on pretty much a daily basis. One night, as I tried very hard to fall back to sleep, I questioned myself…. Why had I started writing in the first place? What was my purpose for creating this blog?

blog GIF
[Image Description: A cartoon saying, “Where did they go? Probably running home to read my blog.”] Via giphy
Was it to achieve recognition? No. Was it, to hate on individuals that had done me wrong in the past? No. It was because I wanted to voice my thoughts and opinions on matters that I thought are important or that needs to be heard. It was because I wanted to be the voice, for those that couldn’t speak it out.

It was because I wanted people to know that they are not alone in occurrences they experience every day.

So I decided to make it a must. To write once a week, about anything and everything I felt. Regardless of whether people read it or not because I know it’ll help someone along the way. But most importantly, to continue doing something I’m passionate about, on my own time.

I found my reasons for making my resolutions and thus I am able to stick to them so far. Which is why I encourage anyone to understand the idea or rationality for choosing your resolutions, notice the importance of it, and you will stick to it no matter what.

Gender & Identity Life

When I stopped using thirty as a deadline for my life goals, everything changed

I had grand plans to celebrate turning thirty in style, doing the thing I loved most since my early twenties: travel. At the time, I also thought I had the big break in my career with an opportunity abroad. I prematurely idealized all of the great things to come after struggling from a lay-off and bouts of demoralizing job hunts.

 Until life slapped me in the face just a few weeks before turning thirty.

I had to move back home with my parents in Dallas when I found out that my dad was very sick. It was strangely perfect timing because I also resigned from that so-called big break right around then. Clearly, things did not work out, and I invested too much of my personal happiness in it. Within less than a month of being back home, I woke up on a Saturday morning to find my dad not able to move. We thought everything would be fine within two days as we rushed dad to the hospital. Those two days became a month.

[bctt tweet=”Until life slapped me in the face just a few weeks before turning thirty.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Eventually, dad’s kidney was leaning towards complete failure, and permanent dialysis was necessary. Within two hours of drawing the line into his veins for dialysis, he bled, profusely. It was from another unrelated area of his body — nothing to do with his original illness. After the nurse called us over, the alarm lights for the ICU began to flash. It was too quick to even process.

As the situation slightly stabilized, I looked through the window of my dad’s ICU room. I saw him open his eyes gently, raise his hand and wave at me to come inside.  After telling him where he was and what had happened, he began to cry.  As I wiped his tears away and told him he would be okay, I held my own back. I then read the news to him as I had been doing during his stay at the hospital every day that month.  I laughed with him as we realized that the news was even more depressing with Trump having just been elected. We watched cat videos instead.

That was the last time I saw any bit of energy left in him, and the last time I looked into his departing eyes. After about a day, the situation had escalated too much, and we decided to let him pass away in dignity.

A few months later, I finally had the chance to see everything in my own life that preceded my father’s death. I realized that I was unnecessarily upset throughout my twenties, despite what my social media profiles displayed: masters degrees, life in different cities, travel to many new places, and a promising career. This display was an attempt to appear “not behind” everyone else, but deep down I felt like I was.

[bctt tweet=”I realized that I was unnecessarily upset throughout my 20s, despite what my social media profiles displayed.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I wanted everything so quickly because I thought everyone else in my age group was succeeding so quickly. In that obsession, I refused to listen to my heart and body. I needed to slow the heck down. I was refusing to re-evaluate the career and personal-life path I was taking at that time because I did not want to look like I was giving up.

About a month before dad even knew that he was potentially staring death in the face, he said this to me: “Whatever has gone wrong — just pretend it never happened and move on. It is that bad paragraph you delete from your page. You rewrite it. These things are better when a partner stands beside you. It makes the blow less intense.”

My dad was the only one person who looked deeply into my soul and understood my inner struggles without me needing to utter a word. He did not place deadlines on me the way society and even some other people in my South Asian family tried to. He knew that everything happened when it needed to, which is why he never made me worry about what I did and did not accomplish by thirty.

For the record, I did find my life partner right around that time. Not because he or anyone pushed, but because he sent me nothing but positive vibes and believed it would happen. This happened after years of listening to family members tell me that I was getting too old. Years of constant nosiness into my personal life. Concern with why I was not married rather than how or what I was doing.

While losing my dad hurt profusely, I gave myself permission to reset my life as a way to move forward. With this reset, I realized what mattered to me. The changes in my life since I turned thirty have been surreal.

[bctt tweet=”Whatever has gone wrong — just pretend it never happened and move on. It is that bad paragraph you delete from your page. You rewrite it.” username=”wearethetempest”]

While society can make your thirties seem like the decade of everything going downhill, I have news:  it has not been either uphill or downhill because it was never linear in the first place. I do not see my life as “not having my sh**” together anymore.  It is a natural continuum with highs and lows that make life worth living. The  expectations we have of ourselves before thirty contribute to the pervasive ageism that gradually creeps into magazine covers, the dating world, workplaces – and, most importantly, us.  

Books Pop Culture Interviews

This Egyptian author is revolutionizing her homeland’s book scene, and she has advice that we all need to hear

Dina Elabd is an Egyptian children’s and young adult author. She has published Melouq, The Lion that dressed as a Sheep and The Magic Palm. She has a new book coming out at the end of the Summer on Amazon, in the same style of Diary of a Wimpy Kid – but based in Egypt.

Elabd sat down with The Tempest to talk about her experience as an author, and tips she has for aspiring young writers.

The Tempest: What motivated you to write Melouq, The Lion that dressed as a Sheep and The Magic Palm? Did you draw from experiences you had as a child or stories your grandparents and parents told you?

Dina Elabd: These stories are a bit more modern than a lot of the stories I heard about my local culture in Egypt. I actually grew up for the first 12 years of my life in California, and just like now they were extremely high tech and very advanced.

I grew up listening to all sorts of stories that were so much more open-minded and culturally diverse, and I just fell in love with it.

But when I came to live in Egypt afterward, I couldn’t find anything like these stories. In fact, I even taught at a school for a year and a half and I noticed that you have students in Egypt reading novels written elsewhere, by other cultures, in English, but you can’t find any equivalents in Egypt.

So this just made me think, well, I can do this. I can write and I want to write! And I want to produce work that children will want to read and be excited to read. I believe that children’s literature is so important and books really help a child with empathy.

They help a child with being able to analyze their own culture and the cultures of others and see what’s good and what’s bad and what can be improved.

These are just such important skills.

Books can really teach someone what’s going on in the world, and what’s going on in their own lives from a different perspective and then maybe they can find someone local to talk to about it, even if it’s their own parents.

Image shows the cover of Melouq- an illustration of a sailboat against a blue background showing mountains and a night sky.
Melouq, 2016

The Tempest: I saw you studied at the University of Cambridge where you did a Masters of Philosophy in Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature. How did studying help you write your children’s books and your young adult novel?

Dina: Primarily, it just gave me a lot of confidence. Being able to compare my work to others’ on the world space was very important to me.

I really wanted to produce work that was of international quality, not just something locally good, which, in my opinion, was not going to be that hard given the niche that I’m targeting.

I wanted it to be good on an international scale and that’s what Cambridge taught me. We had students from all around the world, and to see them all producing this quality, comparing their work and their research to others in their region and abroad was very important to my work.

What kind of reception did your books have in Egypt?

Dina: Right now Melouq, my debut novel, has been doing quite well in Egypt. I’ve had a book signing in a bookstore and different schools.

I’ve also read to students from my newer book The Lion that dressed as a Sheep, and Melouq is even in a school curriculum for grade 10. So I’m basically targeting these international English-language schools. I’ve also been invited to join the British Council in Egypt to do a 3-day school tour of 7 international schools between Cairo and Alexandria.

There, I will explain my Master’s experience in England and talk about my books.

Image shows Dina at a signing even in a bookshop, holding her book "The Lion Who Dressed as a Sheep"
Via Dina Elabd

What did it feel like to see children and young adults reading your books?

Dina: It’s very good to hear that a child has picked up my book and cannot put it down for a day and a half till it’s done because that really reminds me of myself.

It’s really exciting to hear when someone comes and talks to me about my book to tell me that there are all these mistakes! They’ll tell me, “Why did you decide to do this, why did you decide to do that?” and I think it’s a sign that this is good literature.

It makes people ask questions and figure out for themselves what’s right and what’s wrong. Sometimes the character says something and they think it’s my opinion and I’m like, “No! That’s just that character that said that it’s not me saying that!”

And they say, “No, but you wrote the book!”

I’m like “Yeah, okay, but different characters say different things, right?” so it’s kind of funny. I get all sorts of reactions but they’re heartwarming and help me as a writer to think of what’s better for the readers.

What advice would you give young people wanting to write stories from their own perspectives and cultures?

Dina: I think it’s really important to just write whatever you want to write and whatever you feel close to, and also to write the stories that people want to hear.

Even if it’s done in a very new way. I think that this is becoming very common now and people are reaching out to all kinds of media to hear different stories.

I think any writer should give it a shot, even if it’s completely new kind of story that they’re telling.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

BRB Gone Viral Pop Culture

14 inspiring quotes from Oprah Winfrey to keep you going

Oprah Winfrey: a woman who grew up in poverty and yet managed to become one of the most inspirational women in the world. She’s a self-made billionaire/philanthropist who gives life to the word “renaissance woman.” She donates much of her money to many charities, including her own.

Also, her show Super Soul Sunday is one of my favorites. It teaches me about so many amazing leaders and change-makers.

1. “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”


Research shows that doing a few gratitude exercises per day can lead to enormous benefits. My favorite one is the “3 Good Things Journal,” in which you simply write down three positive things that happened at the end of each day. I have seen people who barely have their basic necessities met and yet their gratitude is what keeps them content. I have also seen those who “have it all” and yet always find something to complain about.

2. “Even if you’re flipping fries at McDonald’s, if you’re excellent, everyone wants to be in your line.”


This is so true. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, if you have that positive energy and attitude, people will naturally be drawn to you.

3. “Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.”


When I was younger, I would waste a lot of time hanging out with people who didn’t make me feel good about myself. I never realized that I had a choice in who I surrounded myself with. Now, I understand how damaging it can be when you spend time with negative people. Of course there are some situations in which it’s unavoidable, such as having a pessimistic coworker. But for the most part, we have more control than we think we do.

4. “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.”


If I read this a few years ago, I probably would have rolled my eyes and continued on with my day. However, wisdom comes with age and now I realize how true this statement is. How can I expect to receive my dream job if I am too scared to even apply? Why should I expect to be treated with respect and kindness if I don’t have the courage to be assertive and set boundaries? It’s simple: if you don’t put yourself out there, then you can’t blame the world for not fulfilling your needs.

5. “True forgiveness is when you can say thank you for that experience.”


I’m still working on applying this one to my life!

6. “I don’t want anyone who doesn’t want me.”


Think about it. Why in the world would you want to be with someone who doesn’t want you? It makes no sense. And yet how many of us stay in unsatisfying or even abusive relationships, due to whatever reasons? I want to live my life by this philosophy and have enough self-love to step away from anyone who does not value me.

7. We often block our own blessings because we don’t feel inherently good enough or smart enough or worthy enough. You are worthy because you are born and because you are here.”


We can be the biggest obstacle towards our success. By having self doubts and negative beliefs about my capabilities, I blocked out good opportunities. For instance, during college, there were a few positions that I really wanted to apply for. But my fear of not being good enough prevented me from getting those positions. When we don’t even believe in ourselves, how can we expect someone else to invest in us?

8. “Every time you state what you want or believe, you’re the first to hear it. It’s a message to both you and others about what you think is possible. Don’t put a ceiling on yourself.”


Yes x 1000! One time when I was stuck in a rut, an aunt of mine gave me some tough love and told me that I was the only one who could get myself out of my gloom. In the moment, it hurt my feelings. But after sleeping on it, I realized that the truth isn’t always pretty.

9. “Turn your wounds into wisdom.”


How many times have we gone through difficulties in life, only to realize later on that those struggles are what made us stronger? Personally, I feel that all the times I felt hurt, alone, or sad are what motivated me to become a counselor.

10. “The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future merely by changing his attitude.”


Why is it that two people can grow up in the same house, receive the same amount of toys, belongings, etc and yet turn out completely different? I think one of the reasons is their mindset and attitude. Powerful stuff.

11. “You can have it all… Just not all at once.”


Sometimes I find it really hard to be patient and wait for the things I want in life, such as a steady job or a loving partner. However, I have faith that everything will fall into place when the time is right.

12. “Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.”


It’s so annoying how society tells us to avoid failure or rejection at all costs. It’s so dumb because even the most successful people have “failed.” When I was a junior in college, I badly wanted to be a resident assistant. When I got the email saying I was not selected, I felt like such a failure. But because of that rejection, I was able to become roommates with Anarocio; a woman who is a huge positive impact on my life. So the moral of the story is that failure is an illusion and many times leads us to something better, we just don’t know it at the time.

13. “Where there is no struggle, there is no strength.”


This quote is only believable once you’re out of the storm. When you’re in the midst of it, you may want to punch anyone who tells you that the pain you’re dealing with is making you stronger. Or at least that’s the case with me.

14. “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”


When I was in middle school, I lived in Pakistan with my mother. During that time, I was extremely self-conscious of the fact that we lived in a small one bedroom apartment while the majority of my classmates lived in big houses. I was embarrassed of inviting anyone over because I would compare my friend’s houses to my own.

Even though I only made a couple of good friends, that was good enough for me because they didn’t judge me by my wealth or status.

Gender & Identity Life

10 things I wish I could tell my younger self

We all have things we wish we knew when we were younger, right?

It may sound a bit weird, but I enjoy writing letters to myself, whether it’s for the past, present, or future. It’s therapeutic and allows me to recharge my personal battery to continue pursuing my goals.

Because let’s be honest, life can get a bit robotic and mundane at times. Pausing to reflect on my past definitely brings me more hope, optimism, and joy.

Isn’t it amazing how, although we all have our own upbringings, and personalities, that somehow there are common themes we can all relate to? My hope is that my list will inspire you to create your own as well. Try it out, you’ve got nothing to lose!

So here’s what I would want my younger self to know:

1. There will be people you come across in life who you become close to, but who manipulate or hurt you. No matter what, keep your heart open. Learn from these people, but never generalize a few rotten tomatoes for the whole crate.


I know you love Spongebob, but for the love of God, please don’t follow Squidward’s philosophy.

2. You will never be able to make all of your family and friends happy. Once you accept this difficult reality, you will feel much more empowered.


It will probably take you a long, long, long time to learn this, but that’s okay.

3. Your parents will get on your nerves. But remember that they are not perfect humans and they’re trying their best.

Be as kind as possible to them because you wouldn’t be where you are without their unconditional love and support.

4. Spend your time wisely. Even if those around you are wasting it away, realize that you will never be able to get it back.


Oprah is a wise woman who will help you in life – listen to her!

5. There may be people who try to project their insecurities onto you. Do not take it personally. Although it may not feel like it, what they say has nothing to do with you.


I couldn’t have said it better myself.

6. Please don’t rush yourself into knowing what you can only learn with time and experience. Take a deep breath and relax.

No matter what happens just keep swimming.

7. You will definitely get lost at times and feel like you’re completely on your own. But you’re not. 


However, on many days, it will all seem to make sense and you’ll be able to connect the dots.

8. Some guys may only like you for your physical beauty–politely distance yourself from them. Don’t fall into the trap of only focusing on how you look. You are so much more than that.

Once again, don’t just generalize those dumbos to all men.

9. Sometimes you will say and do hurtful things to those you are closest to. Never let more than a day or two pass before you find the courage to let your ego down and apologize.


I know it’s not easy sometimes, but life is short. PS: If you’re too scared just send an email or text.

10. No matter how many times you mess up, you will always be loved.

No matter what you are a person deserving of love.

None of us will make it through life without having some sort of realizations we wish we had known sooner. That’s part of the fun (and pain) of growing and evolving. I need to remind myself of these messages on a daily basis.

The difference between my attitude now and around a decade ago is this: I refuse to beat myself up over not being perfect. I embrace my strengths and my areas of improvement because those are the qualities that make me who I am. These are lessons I will have to learn over and over again, but I accept that I will fall down many times. However, I will also rise back up. And so will you.

Weddings Interviews

Meet the founder disrupting the wedding industry for the greater good – and she’s not going anywhere

At The Tempest, we’re constantly on the lookout to shine the spotlight on up-and-coming women entrepreneurs. When we stumbled upon Black Sheep Bride, we instantly knew that the founder, Danielle Calhoun, has what it takes to inspire us all.

Coming from humble beginnings, Danielle had learned early on that hard work and independence is essential to her success. In 2014, Black Sheep Bride stemmed from a need to challenge the status quo of traditionally overpriced, unsustainable weddings.

Danielle strongly believes that our special day can be an opportunity to give back to the local community and the environment.

Courtesy of Black Sheep Brides

The Tempest: We love your concept of changing the common perception of traditionally expensive weddings to sustainable ones. What inspired you to start Black Sheep Bride?

Danielle Calhoun: Black Sheep Bride came at a time in my life when I was stuck. I owned a successful wedding photography business, but also served and photographed in multiple humanitarian trips. I was tired of living in two separate worlds; looking at phony wedding pictures and couples stressed out about the wine pairings for their plated dinner menus, when there were people starving all over the world.

I wanted to celebrate the change-makers; the couples and vendors using their wedding budgets and businesses to serve others. I was tired of Pinterest-perfect inspiration and was ready for intentional, authentic, selfless love to be celebrated, regardless of the guest list, budget, or appearance. It has been an incredibly tough start-up journey and major labor of love, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When you first started BSB, how was it received by the local bridal community?

The wedding community was really hit-or-miss with the initial idea. The BSB concept was polarizing depending on the region of the US, to be honest. Being headquartered in Florida wasn’t helpful either because we are last to ‘get’ new trends and there are a lot of traditional southern-esque vendors and wedding couples.

On the flip side of that, when I traveled to more progressive regions like ATL, NY, and California, BSB was well known, respected and followed by many.

Courtesy of Black Sheep Brides

You work individually with each bride to create a sustainable wedding experience. What is the most rewarding experience you’ve had from this endeavor?

Great question. I actually don’t work with the wedding couples at all. We are an online wedding publication and resource center for them. They can find vendors in our BSB Vendor Directory and read helpful tips on planning a charitable wedding. We have met couples that used BSB throughout their wedding planning process and those experiences were the most rewarding to me.

That’s when I felt like I’d succeeded.

Has your concept of social responsibility and giving back stemmed from your childhood?

Sort of. I was raised in a low-income family, but thankfully I had both parents and a very supportive mother who tried to connect me with outside influences, like Girl Scouts. Our family was on both the receiving and giving ends of charity throughout my childhood, so that has increased my awareness. I started working when I was 14 and learned the value of hard work and independence early on. 

When I was 18, I went to South Africa for 3 months, for which I fundraised for the entire trip because my parents couldn’t support my wild dream. That experience widened my worldview and gave me a sense of identity and awareness that I could use if I had the work ethic and creativity to make it happen.

You work with causes like human trafficking, poverty, special needs, etc. Which one is closest to your heart?

Oh, that is a hard question for me. I find a lot of causes close to my heart.  If I had to narrow it down, it would be homelessness, gangs, and human trafficking.

I worked with a local homeless shelter in college and it opened my eyes to how complex it really is, especially for mothers and children. After that, I spent a few years as a youth leader at a small local church, in Tampa, that had heavy gang influence and I learned the ins and outs of gang politics very quickly.

 Human trafficking is what everyone talks about these days and I am grateful to see so much light being shed on exposing this dark, unseen, epidemic. 

What is one piece of advice you’d give women that’ll make them want to be a Black Sheep Bride?

Don’t get caught up in the wedding foo-foo etiquette stuff. You celebrate your love the best way you know how and if that means you skip adding fine china on the registry or having your dog as the ring bearer… YOU DO YOU.

Your wedding is nothing in comparison to what’s ahead, your marriage (aka, the real adventure).

It’s better to start your marriage off with intentionality and compassion than lofty expectations that things have to be ‘just like the magazines’.

So if you want to skip the gifts and register for a charity through SoKind Registry…DO IT. Want a lab created diamond from MiaDonna, instead of risking a conventional, non-ethical, mined diamond… PLEASE DO IT. Or … If you want to elope, cause you think a wedding is wasteful, WE GET THAT TOO. We are with you!

Do you think BSB could potentially change the future of weddings?

I believe that culture as a whole will change the future of weddings and if that means that BSB has influenced even an ounce of that change, I would be honored! I’ve already noticed a drastic difference in the wedding industry over the past three years since we launched, and it’s really encouraging.

The things I pointed out in 2014 are finally being noticed and addressed by the larger wedding masses and it feels good to know. But we are only just beginning.

This interview was edited for length and clarity. You can find out more about Black Sheep Bride on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and on their website.

Gender Inequality Interviews

Speaking out against sexual violence through poetry: An interview with Stephanie Lane Sutton

Stephanie Lane Sutton is a Midwestern poet, performer, and interactive media artist. Currently, she is a Michener Fellow in the University of Miami’s Creative Writing MFA Program. Previously, she lived in Chicago, where she was a teaching artist with After School Matters and a co-facilitator for Surviving the Mic, a workshop and reading series for survivors of trauma. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Day One,  Tinderbox Poetry, THRUSH Poetry Journal, Dream Pop Press, and littletell journal. She is a co-founding editor of |tap| lit mag. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and her personal blog. 


after Jan Beatty

this is for the hecklers/my stage time soiled with their catcall of approval/what did I expect being friends with male poets/this is what happens when you write good poems/for the man who asked my permission to stay silent/because it made him feel safer/because it wasn’t his rape in the poem he’d written/& for the man who took the poem about rapists personally/it’s ironic you feel victimized/it’s ironic you said it’s my fault/because there are men who show up/& call that organizing/& feel fine taking credit for work done by a woman/this poem is a gravesite/get yourself a shovel/here’s one for my former mentor/the one who fucks his students as soon as they’re 18/he said they’re old enough now/did you count down the minutes until midnight on their birthdays/& for the one who didn’t wait, with or without her permission/with or without sincerely trying to teach her anything in the first place/& for everyone who said I should be grateful for male approval/& the women who are grateful for male approval/as our tongues got minced or led to the slaughter/as we were shot by the man on the other side of the door we knocked on when we had nowhere else to turn for help/& our unconscious bodies were raped into a party trick/& laughter slammed us against the lockers every day/the only ones who showed up were the cameras/& all the histories we’d written got voted out of the cannon by a panel of men/yet our arms stay in the booth selling merchandise/yet our legs stay in case we’re asked to stand & be recognized/since whether or not you’re listening you won’t have to live it/this poem is your tombstone/get yourself a chisel.

The Tempest: When did you realize that poetry was your passion; was there a moment when you just knew that this was a part of you calling?

Um, no (laughs). I don’t think there was one moment when I knew I was going to be a poet, it kind of just happened for me and I think that a lot of people who are poets have this experience where they’re interested in other things and then they start writing poems maybe in a high school English class or in college or just because they see someone else doing it and want to give it a try. I started writing poetry in my diary when I was in middle school, really emo, angsty stuff, and I just kind of kept doing it and then I ended up going to college and doing it more. I think that poetry has always been really challenging for me. There are always ways to challenge yourself in a poem, there’s always a more succinct way of describing something, and that’s the thing that kept me writing. And now I just am a poet, yeah it just kind of happened over time. I just like to think I couldn’t have done anything else, maybe I was just meant to be a poet.

The Tempest: Can you please give us some background on your poem, Slammer?

Yeah, so Slammer is a hard poem for me to talk about, it’s not a happy poem but a lot of the poems I write are not happy. But when I was in my early twenties, I was sexually assaulted and I ended up turning to slam poetry to cope with that. I was living in Chicago and slam poetry started out there and it was just such a huge, vibrant community so I found my way to the slam in the youth community and I kind of grew up in it. Then, as I got older I became one of the adults on the scene, I started teaching younger poets and talking to other women on the scene and I started to learn how rampant sexual assault is in the poetry slam community and not only that I just started to have my own experiences with misogyny with things that made me feel traumatized in a way that reminded me of my own assault. So I ended up writing this poem, as I was inspired by Shooter by Jan Beatty. What I love about that poem is that she takes the violence that she’s experienced at the hands of men and makes it into a metaphor. I wanted to write in a way like that so I wrote about all the things I had experienced in the slam community and that other people had told me they experienced that had made them feel so powerless. I wanted to sort of call that out and metaphorically dig it a grave and bury it. So that’s where the poem came from. It was a poem that I had to write; I don’t think that I could have kept being a poet if I didn’t put that experience into words. 

The Tempest: What has been the most challenging part of being a poet?

A part of me feels like everything is hard about poetry. and at the same time, everything about poetry brings me so much joy. There’s no money in poetry really. You can find a way to teach poetry or you might get paid for a reading, maybe there are other ways to make money that I just don’t know about. You really have to be in it because you love it. For me personally, the most challenging thing has been finding my authentic voice, because when you do poetry slam competitions, there’s a lot of pressure to write poems in a certain way which will get you to win. I’m in a creative writing program MFA right now and in academia, there’s a different kind of pressure that I’m seeing now. Because sometimes my professors want me to change a poem completely and write it in a different way and I think that’s just something you might experience in whatever context your writing is that people want you to be more like them or what they think you should be and you have to learn to take feedback but then to also learn how to push back against that.

I feel it’s especially hard if you’re a woman or you’re queer or person of color because there are always these boxes that you’re being put into anyway. I feel like I am constantly pushing back in all these different ways but in the end, the purpose of that is to find who I am in a way, how I express myself and how I think. It’s difficult but it’s very rewarding and I guess that’s the challenge that drives me forward. There’s no formula for writing a poem, there are no rules. I think that’s part of the thing that makes poetry so valuable. It’s what makes writing poems hard but also what makes poetry matter so much.

The Tempest: Can you give some words of advice to anyone who is thinking about trying poetry, and yet has some fears holding them back?

I don’t think being afraid is a bad thing; I feel afraid all the time that at the same time if you are afraid of something you can also confront it, and that feels very brave. Feeling brave is the best feeling and that’s kind of what you have to strive for. I think if you’re afraid to write poetry, start there. Write a poem on why you’re afraid, or write 10 poems on why you’re afraid! I really believe that writing is transformative and if you put it down in words and confront it, you will feel brave and will transform. You’re going to find inner strength and that’s a magical thing that poems can do. Embrace the fear and move forward.

The Tempest: What do you hope readers take away after reading your work?

I think the most important thing for me right now is for other people who are sexual assault survivors or been through abuse to know they are not alone. I think Slammer might have been the first poem I wrote that was so direct about rape-culture, and right now that’s a lot of what I write and just stories about our culture and things that have happened throughout history and I just want people to not feel alone. And I think that if you’re not a sexual assault survivor or someone living with trauma, and you read my poetry, I want to offer a different perspective on what a poem can be and what a poem can do, whether that’s in form or content. I want anyone who reads my poem to feel that poetry isn’t dead and that it still matters and can make a difference! And if I ever write something which inspires others to write poetry like that that would be my marker for success.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.