Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

Just like every 365 days, the old year has been thrown out and a newer, hopefully shinier one has taken its place. This is a time for reflection and resolution making. My time in Oman has given me a lot to reflect upon, but there are also some things I'd like to improve to make the best of my remaining time posing as an Omani, and there are also some goals I have for the remaining part of 2012.

A year ago, I was a sophomore in high school set on being an exchange student to Egypt. I incredibly focused on APUSH. I had heard briefly of the YES program but I had not even started the application (which, by the way, is due in early-mid January: to anyone thinking of applying, work on that now!) I honestly don’t think that I had much of a concept of what Oman was—I may not have even known where it was. It most certainly did not cross my mind that I might end up living there.  I applied three days before the deadline.

And then life just kind of went on, school, show choir and newspaper taking the majority of my time. Egypt sort of imploded so I looked into other opportunities… my AFS application was switched to Turkey and I emailed to switch my YES application twice, I think. In the end, Oman was my first choice, mostly because of my talking to a former YES student to Oman and also because I wanted to learn Arabic.

Come mid-March, I was flown with the 75 other semi-finalists to Denver for a 3-day selection event that mostly consisted of interviews, group work, and sessions regarding being an exchange student. We went home, and fast-forward to April 12th, 2011: Finalists were announced. I was working on the school paper late at night and checked my email compulsively like I had so often for the past few weeks, finally to see that desired subject line: YES Abroad Oman- Finalist.

Cue massive freakout.

After the initial excitement, though, there wasn’t much to do but wait. Take the APUSH exam. Go about my average American life. Take an intensive Arabic class. We did go for a few days to Washington, DC, for our orientation but otherwise the summer dragged out. I remember talking with the other YESers headed to Oman about how much we just wanted to leave right now! In the months that followed I talked to my host family over the internet, saw my grandparents, attended a few fairs, and generally spent every waking moment anticipating.

And then it was the big day: September 1st, 2011. I hugged my family goodbye, and went to board a plane. I didn’t sleep at all on the trip, not from Chicago-DC-Frankfurt-Abu Dhabi-Muscat. A few highlights of our trip included German chocolate, a killer light that kept flickering on and inhibiting any chance of sleep, and a lady with a poodle in her purse.

After what seemed like an eternity of travel, we landed. I'm not going to go into detail regarding the last few months; you can read my blog if you want to know more. The months since then seem like such an absolute blur. I have tried so many new things and learned so much, not only about Omani culture, but also about myself. Who I am. Why I’m here. And where I want to go.

Oman has fundamentally changed who I am. Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell how, but I can feel it. The people I have met, the foods I have tasted, the Arabic I have tried to speak, the clothes I have worn, the extreme heat I have felt, the true interest people have shown learning my story—all of these and more have helped me to grow as a person. Oman has rekindled my love for life.

As of today, January 1, 2012, I have 170 days left in Oman. And so here, for you, internet viewers, to see, are my list of goals for 2012.

  • ·         Learn Arabic. My Arabic is, to date, not exactly stellar. I can understand more than I can say, but still Arabic is just a hard language. I’d like to become at least conversational by the time I leave. As of now I can say basics, but there are some things I just wish I was better at.
  • ·         Learn even more about Islam. I already know a lot, but I know that there are always more questions I can ask. And there will always be answers, even if they aren’t what I was looking for. This could arguably be the most important on the list, just because of the mission of the YES program, which is essentially to educate young people about other cultures, particularly those related to Islam.
  • ·         Read every book on my Kindle. There are 36.*
  • ·         Understand more to the call to prayer than the first two words (allahu akbar, meaning God is great). This ties in with my first and second resolutions.
  • ·         Discover new music. I plan to rely on the other YESers for this, because their taste in music is much more sophisticated than mine.
  • ·         Strengthen relationships I’ve begun to form. This goes for so many people: my host family (immediate and extended), my Omani friends, the YES Abroad students (y’all are honestly some of the most understanding people I’ve ever met), and most of all, myself. I have a lot to learn about what it means to be Emma, but Oman has put me on a great track.
  • ·         Master the art of Omani cooking. And Indian cooking.
  • ·         Ride a camel. To date, the only time I’ve done this was at the Wisconsin State Fair last summer. Go figure.  
  • ·         Upon return to America, teach people what I’ve learned, regarding so many aspects of my stay. Islam, Middle Eastern culture, etc.
  • ·         Apply to college. It’s mildly terrifying to think that I’m practically old enough to move out on my own… wait…

*this may contribute to my being considered “anti-social,” but if you want to look at objectively, it’s just another kind of social. Reading is, for me, about being social with the intellectual aspect of my brain. I can’t be outwardly social with other humans if I have no platform upon which to base my conversations, so therefore I choose to read to make such a platform for socialization. 

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