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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Love Life Stories

Studying abroad taught me to survive adulting

I hate flying.

I don’t remember when I first developed this fear because many childhood memories include me on a plane en route to visit family in Jamaica. I spent those early trips unbothered, but then it was like I woke up one day and suddenly just the thought of an airplane sent me into a panic.

In 2011, I got news from my study abroad department that my application was accepted and I would be doing my entire junior year abroad in London. I was thrilled. Even as a high school student, I have always known that the single most important college experience for me would be studying abroad. 

The only thing standing between me and my dream of a lifetime was a 7 hour plane ride.

As soon as I purchased my tickets, I marked it down on a calendar and spent most of that summer tightly wound. I divided my time between researching plane crashes and turbulence (so I could be prepared for anything) and discovering homeopathic anxiety remedies (so I could stay calm during a worst case scenario).

By the time my departure date finally arrived, I was a coiled ball of nerves and excitement. As I said goodbye to my family at JFK and made the journey past security to my gate, I was sure I’d pass out from sheer emotion all before boarding.

I barely remember the plane ride itself. It could have been the three glasses of red wine I guzzled in an attempt to self-soothe. Or it could have been the fact that it was a red-eye flight so, my body rebelled and kept me in a groggy haze. Whatever the reason, before I knew it, the pilot came on the loudspeaker and announced our descent into Heathrow. My first solo plane ride was complete.

My time in London continued in that same fashion: as a series of firsts. My first solo plane ride. Opening my first bank account. Navigating unfamiliar streets of a new city all alone.

When I started my freshman year of college in a tiny hippie town in upstate New York, I thought I had known what change meant. But I also knew that home was only a two hour bus trip away. Any independence I had felt was lessened by the reality that I could visit home anytime I wanted. London was not like that. For the first time in my life, I was truly on my own.

Initially, it was scary.

I struggle anxiety so at times even the most mundane tasks are a challenge for me. During my first trip to the main shopping center, I felt totally out of my element. I needed bed sheets, cutlery, and plates. These were all things I’d never had to purchase before. The thought of having buy them all at once made me jittery and nervous. 

Having to do my shopping completely alone was also a new experience. 

I had to get used to the fact that there were no familiar faces in the halls of my university. For the first time in years, I’d have no one to call for a last-minute lunch between classes or a study session in the library. 

It was a huge adjustment. 

I was so used to having my on-campus friends break up the monotony of the academic day. I grew jealous of the friend groups I saw around me but remained too shy to approach any of them.

I didn’t want to spend my entire time abroad as a shut-in, so I had to do the scariest thing for a person with anxiety: I had to confront these fears head-on.

If I wanted to eat I had to embark on a solo-grocery shopping trip. And if I wanted friends, I had to leap out of my comfort zone and meet new people.

Once I realized that I could control and shape my experiences in London, I felt more secure and less anxious. I was able to find a balance between cultivating a social life, keeping up with academia, and creating safe home away from home in my flat.

From the moment I boarded that plane to England, I started on an unknown journey. It would have been so easy for me to decide against my trip and to instead spend all four years on my US campus. I’m glad I chose not to. 

I like to jokingly say that London was the city that “birthed” me and in many ways it truly did. 

I arrived an unsure, high strung girl, and left an independent, self-possessed woman.

Love Life Stories

I couldn’t figure out my body, until the moment birth control ruined my life

When I first started using birth control, I told my primary care doctor that I was sexually active and would like to be put on the Pill. She barely asked me any questions before she prescribed me a combination pill with both estrogen and progesterone and sent me on my way. I figured that that was that, and off I went.

[bctt tweet=”When my doctor prescribed me my birth control, I figured that was that, and off I went. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

Cut to about two years later.

I was fresh out of a depressive episode after my freshman year at university, and still reeling. I was doing better but still not doing my best; feeling numb instead of flourishing, like I should be at college. It was like the happiness that I had felt before, real joy, wasn’t an option anymore.

I needed to know what I was doing to make it so difficult to feel happy.

[bctt tweet=”I needed to know what I was doing to myself that made it so difficult to feel happy.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I don’t know about you, but I like to moonlight as a doctor with the Mayo Clinic’s website as my guide. In my Internet research, I found that one of side effects for hormonal birth control was depression. A light went off in my head. This might be my answer. The more research I did, the more it started to dawn on me – I knew nothing about my body. I had no idea how the menstrual cycle worked. I had no idea what the birth control was really doing to my body. It was all a bit of a shock.

How could I never have learned? My mom definitely taught me some things. And I remember reading the book by the American Girl corporation, The Care and Keeping of YouThat book taught me about puberty and how to put in a tampon, but it definitely didn’t go into the hormonal changes that would be affecting me every month. And it certainly didn’t go into the details of the actual, physical changes that I could observe in my own body, month to month.

Something about the science fascinated me. Getting into the nitty-gritty was important.

It gave me a feeling of ownership over my body.

If I was going to do this, I was going to do this right. I read books about the menstrual cycle, and truly started understanding why it was called a cycle. It wasn’t just a week out of every month where I was inconvenienced. It was a beautiful time. I could celebrate my body and the fact that we had evolved to have these distinct phases in the menstrual cycle, each where something wholly different occurred. And I learned that each different phase meant that I would feel differently and needed to give my body different types of care. I was empowered in my research. I finally felt like I was in control of my understanding of my body.

[bctt tweet=”Learning about the hormonal changes of the menstrual cycle fascinated me.” username=”wearethetempest”]

But I was still on the Pill. And I would be for another couple months after discovering this new knowledge. Finally, I had had it. One day, I just stopped. I was done putting synthetic hormones into my body. For me, it just wasn’t working.

I was off any form of birth control for a couple months. I wanted to let my body get the excess synthetic material out. And in that time I did more research. I didn’t want to go in to the doctor’s unprepared again. I wanted to have all of the information on my side when I asked for something new.

It came down to two options – a non-hormonal intrauterine device (IUD), or the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM).

FAM was based upon the science of fertility signs, like cervical fluid and basal body temperature. If you’ve heard of these practices, it’s usually because they are used by women who are trying to become pregnant. With FAM, you follow the same signs, but then taking the opposite precautions. With the IUD, it was essentially set it, and forget it. Both were non-hormonal, but FAM required a good amount of effort. The non-hormonal IUD could last up to 10 years, and with the way that birth control was being discussed by politicians, I was ready to jump on a method that would last me a decade.

So I did. And for a while, I was happy.

I wasn’t putting any more hormones into my body, and I felt happier knowing I was protected. Everything was working great. And then I traveled to Italy for a semester abroad. I was excited to not have to pack birth control to take with me, happy about the convenience of my method. Then my IUD partially expelled.

I was frustrated. I was so excited that I had been feeling better and was gutted that the IUD had failed. Expulsion is a risk with IUDs, but not an especially common one. And the odds of an IUD working again after one expulsion go down by a lot. If it happens once, it’ll happen again. So I had the IUD removed, and then I was stuck with a question.

If I didn’t want to be using hormonal birth control, and the risk of IUD expulsion being even higher because of what had just happened, what was I going to do?

[bctt tweet=”If I didn’t want to be using hormonal birth control, what was I going to do?” username=”wearethetempest”]

And that is when I chose to start using FAM. I was in a good place with my cycle, and I wanted to try following my signs of fertility, learning about my body. My partner was on board with me trying. I had already done the research. The only thing left to do would be to put it into practice. So I did.

There’s a learning curve to FAM, that’s for certain. I started with a simple basal body temperature thermometer from the drugstore, and charted on paper, with a chart I found online. Now I use the Daysy, which is a sophisticated piece of menstrual technology. It’s designed to take your temperature and by following your temperature, it can tell you when you’re ovulating, what days are your fertile days, and which days you are infertile.

Did you know women are only fertile about a week out of the month? At all other times, the chances of pregnancy go down to almost zero. We really aren’t the walking baby machines I used to think we are! If you want to learn more about charting and FAM, here is my favorite FAM YouTuber. Her whole channel is dedicated to talking about FAM and how it really is a viable, non-hormonal birth control, and that it really does work.

I can’t explain how happy I am that I found FAM. Learning about my body has changed my own experience from month to month. I am more in tune with how I am feeling, and why. Something I would have dismissed before, like acne, is actually a sign of the different phases. And to me, that’s a beautiful thing.

Will I ever go on birth control again? Who knows. But the journey I have had has helped me discover just how amazing my body is.

Race The World Inequality

Dear European white men, you will never own my body

Recently, I studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain. The experience was nothing short of magnificent. I met incredible people both within the group of Americans I traveled with and amongst the local population.

Myself and another girl in my cohort were the only two Black people out of approximately twenty-five UC college students. Initially, I did not think twice about being one of the few students of color in the group. Berkeley has a very low Black student population. As such, being the only or one of the few Black students was not new to me.

However, I noticed immediately that the my experiences differed from the white students in our group. Particularly there was a deep dissonance in how I was treated at nightclubs by Spanish men vs. how white women in my cohort were treated.

All the women in our group commented on the forward nature of Spanish-male courtship. Even so, I found that my experiences contained extreme racialized undertones. At nightclubs, Spanish men often hyper-sexualized me and approached me inappropriately and incredibly aggressively.

For example, at one club, a man would not stop grabbing me. When I asked one of my friends who spoke Spanish fluently to politely ask him to stop, he continued to grab me while saying “women do not look like her in my country.”

What the fuck? Who says that?

I brought my concerns to my brother, who is incredibly well-traveled and was also in Europe at the time. We spoke of how in Europe, interracial dating is less-stigmatized. As a result, white men abroad feel much more comfortable approaching women of color (white men in the United States rarely if ever hit on me).

We both agreed that this a great thing. America has a deep history of anti-interracial marriage laws. This makes it much harder to enter into an interracial partnership without experiencing some stigma here in the states.

Nonetheless, my nightclub-woes in Spain contained another layer. Barcelona has a very low Black population. Furthermore, the number of Black men I encountered far outweighed Black women, who I found to be virtually invisible during Barcelona daily-life. At night after 1 AM, however, a large number of Black Women work the nightclub-strip as sex workers. A fact I was blind to until one of my friends was propositioned as we were leaving a club.

Now, I vehemently stand against the stigmatization of sex work. I believe women have the right to work in whatever way they choose in order to make a living. And I feel that sex work in no way lessons a woman’s physical or spiritual value.

The issue with the large influx of African women sex workers in Europe is that many of these women are trafficked.

There are multiple articles that discuss the phenomenon of African women sex workers in Europe. Many of these women are lured to Europe under false-pretenses and then forced into sex work to pay off their travel debt. That is not voluntary sex work, that is coercion, that is abuse, that is rape.

This abuse of African women’s bodies creates a climate within major European cities such as Barcelona wherein Black women are assumed to be lascivious. It is assumed that Black women in Barcelona are there to be objects of sexual desire, particularly white male desire. In fact one Black woman detailed how in Barcelona she was flat out mistaken to be a sex worker.

I remember being most surprised by this phenomenon while in a salsa club. I was dancing with a guy (who was a great salsa dancer by the way, I had a blast) and I told him I was finished. After turning back to my friends he tried to grab me.

My friend’s brother asked him to stop and for a moment my former dance partner became physically aggressive. His aggression both shocked me and signified to me that he felt a strange ownership of my body. I had danced with him, therefore I should continue to be available to him.

Now some may read my former statement and say, “how is that problematic? He just sounds like a douchebag.”

Well, you are half-right. He is a douchebag. That is super true and accurate. However, the assumption of my availability as a Black woman that was not placed on any other women in my group is what makes it racialized.

Nonetheless, like most people of color I felt unsure that I was correct in my critique of my experience. I thought “maybe I am wrong. maybe this experience has nothing to do with my race, and everything to do with the dating culture of Barcelona” (lol, because its low-key always about race).

Luckily, one of my thesis advisors from Berkeley was teaching in Barcelona for the summer and we were able to grab a (delicious) dinner. At the dinner I spoke to him about my concerns due to how I was being approached.

We had a casual chat, wherein he, too, commented on the large amount of Black women sex workers in Barcelona. We talked about the adverse effect this has on the perception of the Black female body in Spain and he comforted me by telling me that I was not the only Black woman to bring up this concern.

If you are Black, especially a Black woman, and about to travel abroad you will have a blast. Seriously, it will be an amazing and fun time. Within the fun and joy of being in a new place, remember to be aware of your feelings and in-touch with yourself. There were times while traveling that I felt really sad and alone. I was having all of these experiences that made me feel devalued in a group of students who couldn’t relate to me racially.

This experience taught me that traveling while Black is a revolutionary and resilient act. As a person in a Black body you are never quite sure what you will experience while traveling abroad. Anti-black sentiments exist globally and abuse of Black bodies is wide-spread.

As a result, traveling while Black can be quite a scary experience.

If you have other Black friends who have traveled, ask them to be available to you so that you can talk out your experiences in a way that makes you feel safe and heard. And remember, having the capability to go abroad is a blessing in itself so take life as it comes, smile, and breathe in the beauty all around you.

Oh, and don’t be afraid to check a dude if he assumes you are going to sleep with him, because that is gross and shady and we don’t have time.

Love Life Stories

4 reasons why studying abroad was the best choice I ever made

I always knew that I wanted to study outside of my home country, Colombia. I didn’t have any specific reason why, but from an early age I had made up my mind.

Luckily for me, I went to an American school back in Colombia, which acquainted me with American culture and the English language from the age of four. My parents chose this school because they wanted my brother and I to learn English and study at a school that didn’t enforce Catholic values like the other institutions around town. Ultimately, they wanted us to get a different educational experience than the one they had so that one day, we would be prepared to study abroad.

Having received an American education and having my parents support were two key factors that made it possible for my brother and I to study in the United States. Even though I considered several options (Spain and Australia for example), I settled for Boston, Massachusetts, the city I’ve called my home for three years now. With graduation just around the corner, I’ve been reflecting on how studying away from home has helped me grow.

1. It helped me become truly independent.

Having mom and dad miles away meant that I had to go apartment hunting and move on my own, buy my own furniture (and find a way to build it – those Ikea instructions are not as helpful as you think), make sure to pay my bills, and have a budget so that my allowance could last all month. Also, being an international student sometimes meant not seeing my family for a full semester in comparison to my American friends who could go home during the long weekends. Every lonely Thanksgiving break I spent in Boston reminded me that being away from home was only making me stronger.

2. I met incredible people from all over the globe.

When times grew lonely, I always had my international buddies. After all, they were the only ones who could understand the F-1 status struggle: not being able to work outside of campus, for example, and constantly stressing about the fact that you can only stay in the country for a year after graduation. We all bonded over these things, and it was a relief to know that these people had my back. I felt this way with my international orientation leader who was from India but lived in Taiwan. He acquainted me with Boston, helped me file taxes, and gave me advice on how to make sure my professors pronounced my name correctly. At a first glance, a lot of things made us different; for instance, he was a Hindu and I was raised Catholic. But no matter how different we were, I came to appreciate his religion and culture and was able to learn from someone who had a different worldview than I did. Building friendships with so many diverse people taught me that when we go beyond stereotypes and prejudice, we give ourselves the opportunity to meet incredible human beings and learn from them.

[bctt tweet=”When we go beyond stereotypes and prejudice, we give ourselves the opportunity to meet incredible human beings and learn from them.” username=”wearethetempest”]

3. It made me understand that different cultures do things differently, and that’s okay.

From dating to greetings, every culture has a different way of doing things. During my first semester in Boston, I found it difficult to decipher how I should greet people because back home we always kiss once on one cheek. However, I eventually got used to the fact that Americans prefer handshakes and Europeans like kissing once on each cheek. A similar case of adjusting happened when I realized that Americans eat dinner earlier and come home soon after, which explained why my roommate worried about me when she was getting ready for bed at 10 p.m. and I was not home. It was difficult to adapt to these different schedules, but we eventually did. Whenever I was coming home after midnight, I made sure to text her. Although these might seem like small parts of my study abroad experience, it opened me up to cultural differences and made me realize that it’s okay for people to do things differently. In fact, finding out about all these differences continues to be fun every day!

4. I learned where my country stands in a global context.

All those deep conversations about politics and current issues in and outside the classroom with my diverse group of friends made me realize where my country stood in a global context. Simple discussions like what my friends thought about Pablo Escobar or the first thing that came to mind when they heard about Colombia, informed me about what the stereotypes of my country were. Ironically, this strengthened my national identity and allowed me to understand what it meant to be Colombian in the eyes of the world. It also made me care more about the things my country could do better: improve public education, decrease corruption, and increase our sense of national identity. Overall, this made me proud of the obstacles we have overcome as a nation, aware of the ones we are still fighting for, and appreciative of my people for being strong in the midst of violence caused by the war on drugs. Studying abroad made me love my country even more, which is perhaps what I’m most grateful for.

[bctt tweet=”My diverse group of friends made me realize where my country stood in a global context.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Love Life Stories

Stop saying I’m brave to live life, just because I have a disability

It took a while to occur to me that being involved with piano and other musical activities so heavily was somewhat ironic. You see, my family discovered when I was young that I have hearing loss—not enough to be considered completely deaf, but enough to require hearing aids in both ears in order to to make everyday life easier.

When I was little, though, I didn’t think in terms of “Oh, this activity requires a lot of listening and hearing-related things. Maybe it wouldn’t be the best thing to do.” Instead, my world was much simpler. I saw that my older cousins both played piano and wanted to try it myself. My parents found a piano teacher whose only issue with letting me study was that I should wait another year to start, and I subsequently played piano for more than ten years.

There’s a popular sentiment that people with disabilities are exceptionally brave to get through life in spite of whatever challenges they have. I personally don’t feel particularly brave. As I see it, I’ve been given one life to live, and yes, this life includes dealing with less-than-average hearing, but that’s not going to change and I still have to live my life fully so it would be senseless to limit myself because of it.

[bctt tweet=”My life includes hearing loss. That’s not going to change.” username=”wearethetempest”]

There are things I have to do to work around my hearing impairment. Within a school setting, I wear something known as an FM system, basically a small microphone that the teacher or professor wears that picks up their voice and brings it to my hearing aids. I think managing this technology from an early age (as well as keeping my hearing aids safe) taught me an early sense of responsibility.

Even with this FM system there are still issues in situations where there is a lot of background noise. The machine doesn’t know how to focus on one person’s voice, and just amplifies everything, so it is a challenge to work with on group projects with lots of people talking at once.

[bctt tweet=”Someone remarked that I was brave to study abroad with hearing impairment.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Cafeterias, too, proved a challenge because of the high level of background noise. There were certain things I could do to make it easier. The school had placed me in speech therapy courses, and there I learned to lip read, which helped some in noisy situations. But there were many lunches where I only caught snatches of conversation, didn’t quite know what was going on and ended up very frustrated. This changed in high school, when we were finally allowed to eat outside the cafeteria, but even in college dining halls today it continues to be an issue.

[bctt tweet=”There were many lunches where I only caught snatches of conversation.” username=”wearethetempest”]

These issues that I face are sometimes annoying. Sometimes I mishear something and respond with a remark that’s totally unrelated, or can’t contribute to a conversation nearly as much as I would like because I can’t hear enough of it. But I am lucky that these are the only issues I face. I am lucky to be otherwise healthy. I am lucky that I have never been bullied because of my hearing.

And these things are just things to work around. Someone recently remarked that I was brave to study in another country with all the problems I face with my ears. The statement was well-intentioned, but I found it a bit preposterous. Yes, languages are supposed to be hard for someone with hearing impairment, but apparently I never got that memo either. I had been studying Spanish for over 12 years, and the hearing impairment hadn’t stopped me at any time.

Why would I let it stop me from applying what I had learned in the real world? Sure, there would be struggles. But I would figure out ways to work around them.

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Love Advice

4 tips to make your trip unforgettable when traveling on your own

It was the summer after my freshman year in college when I decided to travel on my own to Terrassa, Spain. My parents were a little uncertain about letting me go but I told them that I’d been dying to go to ESCAC (one of my favorite film schools) ever since I was in high school. After weeks of insisting, they finally said yes!

To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had been to Catalunya (a region in Spain) with my dad only once when I was 12 and could barely remember it. Although I knew at the time that I wanted to come back when I was older, I was still venturing into the unknown. After all, the internet could only give me a vague idea about the program, the dorms, and the town itself. But my doubts didn’t stop me. After an 11-hour flight from Bogota, Colombia, to Madrid, Spain, a 1-hour train, and a long walk, I had made it to my final destination.

Here’s a few things I learned over the next – crazy – three weeks.

1. Be open to meeting new people.

I learned that traveling on my own did not necessarily mean that I was going to be completely alone for the next three weeks. In fact, it turned out to be the complete opposite. When I got to Terrassa I thought, “Shit, who am I going to talk to?” But I soon discovered that meeting new people could happen unexpectedly.

The first night sucked; I had no roommates, the dorm was creepy, and I felt unsafe, so I decided to basically not sleep and go for a walk at 6 a.m.. When I came back to my dorm, I could hear voices coming from the shared kitchen that was connected to another room. Hesitantly, I opened the kitchen door and saw a girl my age and an older couple talking. Turns out it was my roommate/classmate and her parents who were helping her move in. I ended up getting an invitation to visit their hometown (a small town nearby) where I met my roommate’s friends and got to know more of Catalunya. I am still good friends with her as well as many others that I met during the program. We still talk and hope to see each other again someday.

2. Be safe!

This one I learned the hard way. Although it can be difficult to pay attention to your surroundings when there are so many beautiful things to see around you, it is important to keep an eye out for yourself – and your purse. One day I took a day trip to Barcelona to meet a friend from Boston who was in the area. When coming back to Terrassa by myself at night, I felt like a guy was following me out of the train, which is why I decided to talk to someone about it. Luckily for me, the couple I approached was from Colombia and helped me get back to my dorm by calling me a cab. We also exchanged numbers in case of an emergency. This time I was lucky, but it later someone stole my phone at a club in Barcelona. So yeah, learn from my mistakes and be aware of your surroundings 24/7!

3. Explore without any expectations.

One of the best parts about traveling alone is being able to do whatever you want. For me, this translated into going with the flow and not having a set plan for the day. During my first weekend in Barcelona, I decided to walk aimlessly around town. I discovered beautiful places that I wouldn’t have if I had adhered to the “touristy” destinations. For instance, I ate a great meal at a small traditional coffee shop, relaxed by the beach, and discovered a place in town that overlooked the entire city. I got to explore the real Barcelona and its people by letting it take me by surprise.

4. Blog, vlog, journal, or photograph your experience.

When exploring the city, I made sure to bring my camera and notebook with me so that I could keep track of anything that I saw or heard that inspired me or made me think. Since I was on my own, this meant that I was silent for the most part, which allowed me to reflect on my thoughts. I don’t know if it was the European air, the film classes, or the numerous interesting people around me, but my brain was a creative powerhouse during the trip. Having the things I needed to put these ideas down allowed me to come back to them later when I needed inspiration or when I simply wanted to remember an amazing trip.

Gender & Identity Life

I’m afraid of forgetting my Mauritian culture

Somehow, while living in the United States away from my parents’ rulebook, I’ve broken some serious rules rather blatantly while clinging fervently to some others.

I’ve been breaking some trivial rules as well, such as not washing my mug or spoon or bowl immediately after using it, sometimes washing it more than a week later (!), only doing my laundry when I run out of clean underwear (and socks), making my bed once a month, if at all. Though those are not really serious infringements, my parents, especially my mom, would highly disapprove of this way of living.

[bctt tweet=”I’ve broken some serious rules rather blatantly while clinging to some others.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I wonder if I’m defining a new me, is this how I really, actually am? Am I creating the template for my future life right now? Is this the way I will live even after I graduate and live on my own, and after I get married, if some poor soul does ever make the lapse in judgment to agree to be my husband? Will I be this sloppy, untidiness-loving, rule-breaking girl for the rest of my life? Or is this just a rebellious phase of my life as I begin to live on my own for the first time and there’s no one to nag me about my carelessness and laziness? Will I someday finally realize The Need to live in a tidy and neat and clean environment? When I transform from a grown girl to a full-fledged Womb-an? How will the senior year Nidaa be?

As I attempt to retrace the worn footsteps of my kin before me, I can see myself bringing a new, perhaps westernized twist to it. This hit me the other day while I was cooking traditional Mauritian Rougail in a foreign country, with the same vegetables which looked different, with foreign friends, while listening to American songs. I was trying to recreate the familiar feel of home, maybe because I miss it, but without realizing that I will never be able to experience that moment exactly ever again, not even when I go back home next year, since even though I will then be following the rules again, I will have known the feeling of being wild and free, one I’ve never known before.

[bctt tweet=”Am I creating the template for my future life right now? ” username=”wearethetempest”]

I make my usual cup of Mauritian black tea, but in a Creighton University mug. I apply henna as I used to, but on white strangers’ hands. I pray just as I’ve always had, but alone in a female Muslim prayer room, on a new prayer rug. I have my usual crazy crushes on guys, but this time they are people from wholly different cultures than mine, people I cannot claim to fully understand. I have friends, close ones, but they cannot communicate with me in my native language.

So am I in the process of becoming one of those new-age women that I used to be intrigued by and disdained at the same time? People who retrace the longstanding marks of tradition but water it down to the point that I used to feel it disrespected the original practice. But isn’t that exactly what I’m doing right now? A younger me would scoff at this – why pretend to be fulfilling a custom if you’re not going the whole way? Why call yourself a Muslim proudly and openly if you’re not going to follow everything that the religion prescribes?

[bctt tweet=” I have friends, but they cannot communicate with me in my native language.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Now I get that it’s not that simple. It’s not always easy or convenient for someone to fulfill every last norm or ritual à la lettre. That you sometimes have to make adjustments. That what Mauritian Muslims believe and participate in may not necessarily be true for other ones. That you sometimes have to decide for yourself to which extent you’re willing to implement religion in your life, and making that choice may not necessarily make you a bad person, or a hypocrite, as I used to think. I always used to say that religion cannot be thrust upon someone, you have to let them freely choose which aspects of it they want to incorporate in their lives. This was back when my own parents used to drill religion into me.

Now I’m actually living that truth and making those kinds of choices every day. And so I will for the rest of my life.

[bctt tweet=”This was back when my own parents used to drill religion into me.” username=”wearethetempest”]

So will I be the kind of mom who allows her daughter to eat whatever she wants but makes her pray alongside with her? I don’t know, I wouldn’t want to. A new-age mom, I will inevitably be, I certainly will not, cannot, be the same type of mother that my own mom has been to me, not now that I’ll be staying so many years on my own, making my own choices and creating new identities, negotiating bridges between traditions and my own godless desires, perpetually trying to placate God with dubious compromises.

[bctt tweet=”The only question is, will I want to be?” username=”wearethetempest”]

But it depresses me all the same to know that each day, I go a little farther from the conventions I’ve grown up with, sometimes not necessarily by choice. But so did my dad while living in Russia all those years, and he still came back to be a mostly traditional Mauritian. So I guess at the end of the day, I will have a choice, living away from my country does not necessarily mean that I will forget how to be Mauritian.

The only question is, will I want to be?

Gender & Identity Life

A diaspora kid’s guide to surviving summer in the motherland

For children of the diaspora, summer is a time for visiting the global south to reconnect with your roots, rekindle family ties, and preserve the other half of your hyphen-identity. In light of the season, here are some survival tips to get you through yet another summer in the motherland:

Do not worry about learning the language you’ve spent your entire childhood, adolescence and young adulthood unlearning. You’ll pick up on it again while you’re there and forget it once you’re on your connecting flight in Heathrow, where you will officially have no use for it anymore.

Choose a proper term of endearment for the country you’re visiting.

Can you really call it the “homeland” when you weren’t even born and raised there? When you’ve spent the last few years spitting out so forcibly, so determinedly, “I’m from LA” when someone asks you where you’re really from?

Maybe, because your mother was born there, you can call it the “motherland.” But what do you know about the labor pains it endured?

Save any beauty care you’ve been putting off for the salons over there.

The hairdresser won’t gape at your hair, trying to comprehend how such a monster could exist. She won’t call it wild. She won’t think it’s a burden. She won’t charge you extra for washing so much hair. In fact, she’s done this seven times just this afternoon and you look just like her daughter.

Take a clear stance when it comes to politics. Are you with them or against them?

Or don’t. What do you have to say about calls for revolution versus pleas for stability? You’ll be long gone if debate ever came to action.

Make a list of all the foods you’re craving because no matter how globalized this world gets, sugarcane juice will never taste as sweet as it does at 2 am in July surrounded by your cousins.

People will stare at you because you look a little different there, too.

Don’t think about what it would be like if your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, your cousins, all lived in the US with you…if they only applied for a VISA 25 years ago like your parents begged them to…

Enjoy the nightlife culture that stopped short of crossing the Atlantic.

Make a playlist of the popular songs that blare through the radio all summer, so that when you stumble upon it years later when you’re cleaning out your hard drive, pain and shame well up inside you for forgetting “Amazing Summer 2015” so easily.

When you see the abundant breakfast spread your maternal aunt has made for you, feel proud that your people are the most hospitable people on earth.

Hope that your aunt chastises you for leaving the house a mess just like she yells at the rest of her nieces and nephews who get to see her every other day.

Even though she probably won’t. While the others are forced to deep clean the bathroom and scrub the floors, she will be asking you instead to put batteries in the remote control because that’s just how much she wants you to be pampered.

When you come back and coworkers and classmates ask you how your trip was, do not tell them about the things they wouldn’t understand: the crowds, the trash, or the heat.

That’s between you and the motherland.

Gender & Identity Life

Here are the 6 most annoying times people decided to call Africa a country

You know what really bothers me? When I’m at the DMV and someone tries to have a conversation with me.

More irritating than that, however, is when people refer to Africa as a country. As someone who has family in Africa, (specifically, Egypt) it baffles me every time I hear it on the news, on a TV show, in a movie, in a song. How difficult is it to open up a map of Africa and pick one of the 54 countries there to set your location?

1. Mean Girls


Public school n00b Cady Heron has been homeschooled all her life because her parents are “research zoologists who have spent the last few years in Africa.” Okay, so maybe her parents did quite a bit of moving around in Africa, but it’s hard for me to believe they moved throughout all 54 countries. They could even just specify a region here: Central Africa, West Africa, North Africa, East Africa, South Africa?

I’m assuming that since her mother is a professor she probably specifies in a certain species or migration pattern, and that species probably resides in a specific region. Let me help you rephrase your narration, Cady:

“We’re completely normal, except for the fact that both my parents are research zoologists and we’ve spent the last years in the Serengeti, in parts of Tanzania and Kenya.”

2. The Lion King


They actually only say the word “Africa” once in the entire movie, which is impressive for a film that basically invented the way children born in 1990 and beyond perceive Africa. The location of the movie is the “Pridelands,” which I’m assuming are savannas, perhaps in the Serengeti? Though it’s still a bit vague.

Though it’s still a bit vague.

Apparently to gain inspiration for the film the crew headed to Hell’s Gate National Park in Kenya. Why couldn’t the film have mentioned “Pridelands of Kenya”? (Also screw the article that I found that talked about the trip because they say interchange “Africa” and “Kenya” like 6 times even though they know it was inspired by Kenyan wildlife!)

3. Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls


In this 1995 film, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective needs to find a sacred bat of the Wachati people in some fictional location in that big huge continent Africa. Now, I see the filmmakers’ reasons for making it a fictional location with a fictional people, they can be as offensive as they want without actually offending anyone because these people don’t exist, right? Still, the fact that he’s doing something nature related in Africa already comes with its own set of implications.

Perhaps the film could be set in South Africa? Apparently, there are 75 species of bats there. Sounds like the perfect location.

Sounds like the perfect location.

4. People who study abroad in “Africa”


I noticed a necklace that my white coworker was wearing. It was an outline of the African continent. I asked her where she got it from. She said she studied abroad in Africa and bought it while she was there.

So that means she spent at least one semester in a country in Africa, living, studying, eating, and she failed to see the difference between that country and the entire continent?

Or perhaps she actually did study abroad in all 54 countries. Maybe she attended one lecture in each country.

I asked her, “where in Africa?” She replied, “South Africa.” You could have said that from the beginning but you just like to watch my blood boil, dontcha?

5. Paul Simon’s “Under African Skies”


An old song, I know. But it still bothers me to this day. WHICH SKY ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT PAUL SIMON? I’m assuming you know that Africa is a continent because you say “skies,” suggesting that perhaps the skies are above several regions, several countries, several cities?

Which sky are you talking about exactly when you say “African sky”? Do you mean a Libyan sky? Or a Kenyan sky? Or maybe a Somali sky? TELL US, PAUL.

Now that we’re done with the disaster portion of this post. Let’s focus on the one show that does it right:

1. The Wild Thornberrys


Yes, folks.

A show for children is more geographically correct than any of the above examples plus many news outlets. Each episode begins with a map of the world, zooms into a specific continent, then country, then region/city/natural park to give you the exact location of where the Thornberrys are in the episode.

Hats off to Nickelodeon for doing some research and using an actual map to educate our nation’s children that AFRICA IS NOT A COUNTRY.