At Last, my “Gap Year Epiphany”

One of the things I learnt about gap years, from being on one, is that they are absolutely misunderstood by the general public. Halfway through the program, people back home expect that I’m having the time of my life, and that I have everything figured out. That four months in a foreign country have allowed me to reinvent myself, plan out the next few years of my life, and gain a strong understanding of my interests and goals. There’s also the added bonus of being “fluent in Arabic.” I’ll be in America in four months, and there’s only one thing I can say confidently: I am confused. Do I have my life figured out? Quite the opposite. Do I know what I plan to study? Absolutely not. Am I fluent in Arabic? Uh… fluency… not sure if that’s ever going to be possible. However, there’s one gap year “epiphany” that has finally been revealed to me: I have no clue how my life is going to play out, and that’s totally okay

It’s not like the past few months of Arabic studies account for nothing. Quite the opposite, in fact! I can now write some pretty passionate rants about the effect of French colonialism, understand my college professor in my “Arabic Language Didactics” class, and gain a lot from a lecture about post-World War I Europe at high school. I’m a lot better now at eavesdropping on conversations on the street, and I was able to conduct an hour-long focus group where Moroccans discussed the Arab-Israeli conflict in Darija. At the same time, I still forget to vary my sentence structures when speaking about complex subjects in fus7a, and I’m still asked regularly if I’m Syrian, because that accent just won’t go away. Have I improved? Certainly. Am I fluent? Nope, and I won’t be, and that’s totally okay

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A bit on colonialism…

On the topic of my future goals, I came in with a lot of expectations and ideas, but now I’m undecided of what I plan to study. I was pretty sure about Government with Near Eastern Studies before I started this year, but as the months have progressed, things seem a lot less solidified… because the idea of Government no longer seems appealing. I’ve started some free online courses about Linguistics and Religious Studies, to see if I’m interested in those fields… who knows? I no longer find myself drawn to government careers because if anything, this year has made me more aware of Western colonialism and soft power. The point is, this year hasn’t magically opened any new doors for me. But, it hasn’t closed them either. It’s just left me undecided and I’ve also realized that that’s perfectly fine. 

It’s not like I haven’t stressed about this extensively. I have, indeed, because I love to unnecessarily worry and overthink things. I remember reading through descriptions of Humanities and Social Sciences Concentrations at Harvard and freaking out because I couldn’t find the right one. Or scouring the internet for internship opportunities with human rights organizations in the Middle East. Then, really recently, I had a conversation with an American educator who runs the Hindi-Urdu Club where I teach. His accomplishments are inspiring– two time recipient of the Critical Language Scholarship in India (Urdu and Punjabi), a year in India with Fulbright, and a high level of spoken proficiency in a number of languages. And the interesting thing is that he was an Area Studies major. For the past few years, I had a mental block that majoring only in area studies (like Near Eastern Studies), would stop me from being competitive for jobs. My conversation with him really reaffirmed the fact that the main importance of undergrad education is to develop thinking skills, and my major wouldn’t make or break things. 

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A big part of my pre-college fears has also centered around how to pack in all the things (languages) I want to study. Advanced Arabic? A must. Persian? It’s so beautiful; I could never refuse. Turkish? Why not, it would give me a regional focus. But then there are questions such as maintaining my Spanish and French, because I won’t be taking classes in college… or maybe picking up a completely new language like Chinese because it’s so widely spoken. Also what about Pashto? And all the other Arabic dialects I want to master? My biggest takeaway from our conversation was the fact that my language learning, or learning in general for that matter, is not at all limited to college.I have plenty of time to become a polyglot, and to figure out how I want to use the skills I gain. It’s okay.

As I look back on what I’ve written, I’ve realized that I’ve changed a lot this year. There are the obvious things, like how I am so much more independent, and am comfortable getting around the vast majority of Rabat by myself. There are the communities I’ve unexpected involved myself in, like the Palestinian immigrant community. The personal things, such as my increased attachment to my Indian-American identity as one of the only South Asians in this city. But there are also deeper, more nuanced changes, like the fact that I am coming to peace with being undecided, and have accepted the beauty of uncertainty. The world is waiting to be explored, and my journey into learning has just begun. And maybe, if I work hard enough, I’ll even become fluent in Arabic some day. 

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