In the summer of 2012, I had the opportunity to sojourn to Cancun with my family. Yes, the beaches in that part of Mexico were beautiful. Yes, the weather was perfect. But my favorite part about that trip started with "Hola" and ended with "Adios". With two years of Spanish classes under my belt, I was able to converse in broken Spanish with the locals. Those short conversations in Mexico started an addiction, triggered a hunger, sparked a fire within me. There is nothing quite as richly satisfying as being able to converse with another person in their own language. I can hardly put the feeling into words, so imagine that you've just won a billion dollars. That's how it feels. (At least for me.)
After returning to Texas, that fire within me kept burning strong and got me searching for ways that I could travel and learn languages. My search immediately brought me to a program called the YES Abroad program which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. As I filled out the application essays, I just wrote how much I really really really REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted to go and travel abroad and learn another language. I don't think that I was prepared at that point to actually study abroad. The desire was there, but I didn't have any solid reasoning to support my application. I received a rejection letter from the YES Abroad program in the spring of 2013, and it was good for me. I redoubled my efforts to find a way to get abroad and I started doing more research.
That's when I came across the State Department careers page. I started reading all about jobs in the Foreign Service and I found my dream job. Everything about working as an FSO (Foreign Service Officer) seemed to match up with my passions. A few clicks later, I found myself on the NSLI-Y homepage.
"If you have a passion for learning languages and want to immerse yourself in a foreign culture, this program may be for you!"
This sentence caught me, and I read on. The more I researched, the more I realized that THIS was the program I had been searching for. THIS was what I truly wanted to do. So, I waited for the application to open up.
Then, my dad started talking about Abu Dhabi. It was very casual talk at first. "Oh yeah. We may or may not pack up everything and move to the Middle East." And it remained loose all the way until the week before the move. "Oh yeah. We may or may not be leaving this Friday. Say goodbye and get packing."
Because our move was so unsure, I decided to continue pursuing the NSLI-Y scholarship. (You know what they say..."The best way to predict the future is to create it.") Well, we moved to Abu Dhabi on September 9th, 2013, and the application opened up a few days later. Even though I had already moved abroad, I wanted more. The fire wasn't put out yet. So, sitting on a rock hard hotel room bed, battling jet lag and culture shock, I began filling out an application that would hopefully bring me to another hotel room bed where I could battle jet lag and culture shock.
As I filled out my application, everything became crystal clear. The reason I wanted to study abroad stemmed from my desire to work for the State Department and to gain valuable experience for a job as a diplomat. Also, as I started learning Arabic in school, I realized that if I were able to study Arabic in the summer of 2014, I would be able to return to Abu Dhabi and continue my language study during my senior year. These reasons, combined with the intense passion I had for what the program stood for, allowed me to craft a rockin' application.
I clicked that submit button with relative confidence and quite a bit of hope. The wait began. Eventually, and to my great joy, I received an email that notified me of my "semi-finalist status" for the scholarship. We filled out forms. (SO MANY FORMS.) Then the waiting began again, but this time, it was a little more intense.
On March 15th, I checked my email, opened up the attachment sent from the NSLI-Y team, and read the words "We are pleased to inform you that you ha-".
I stopped reading and started dancing. And running through the house.
After calming myself enough to be able to return to my computer, I read on. "Arabic, Summer Program, Rabat, Morocco." You can just imagine the next couple of minutes.
Since then, I....well...."we" have prepared to depart for Morocco. (I say "we" because after a phone conference, almost every single one of the Rabat summer program participants linked up on Facebook. We all started chatting and learning about each other, and that really hasn't stopped since we've met up. I already really really like the people I'll be travelling with.)
On the 18th of June, I'll get on a plane and eventually reach New York, New York, where we'll have a pre-program briefing. Then as a group, we'll fly to Rabat and begin.
I have enjoyed every single step of the way (except for all of the paperwork) and I am sure that I'll be feeling like a billion bucks during my time in Rabat.
If there's anything I've learned from this journey so far, it's that you shouldn't give up if you experience setbacks. Allow them to help you refocus on what you really want. Try to recognize that just because one door closes in your face, doesn't mean there aren't other opportunities out there.
Rock on. (...or should I say moRoccOn...) NM