I’ve spent the past ten minutes trying to come up with a way to start this post, but writer’s block has really gotten the better of me, so I think I’ll just get straight to it, and skip any nice introductory paragraph. I haven’t written a blog post in over four months, and sometimes when I zoom out (pun clearly intended), the months that have passed from March 2020 to now sort of feel like one block of time. A spring at home that turned into a summer vacation at home and then the first semester of college… at home.
I am now ⅛ ways through college, which is relieving and terrifying at the same time, and this first semester was unlike anything I expected. Asked where I would see myself at this time of year, I would have imagined a solid college friend group, a semester’s worth of Persian knowledge, and a decent command of Boston public transport. Obviously, that isn’t the case at all, and I’ll admit, the first couple months of college were rough. For a number of reasons, I decided to stay home this semester since all classes would be virtual, and after all my expectations about freshman fall, I definitely felt like I was missing out on the campus experience.
But that aside, not everything about this semester was negative– in fact, quite the opposite! For today, I want to focus on some of the positive takeaways and experiences from this fall, because although it was nothing like what I had imagined, there were some exciting surprises along the way:
When in doubt, take half of your course load in a language other than English. Before I chose my classes for the semester, I was pretty set on taking Arabic and Persian, but I impulsively decided to take the Spanish and French placement tests during the summer and despite not having studied both languages since high school, I somehow ended up doing pretty well! So, in addition to taking the fourth year Arabic course, I added an Introduction to Latin American Studies class to the mix, which was taught in Spanish! I also took an Islam and Politics General Education course where I got to read some pretty interesting scholarship in English and Arabic, and started thinking critically about our understanding of secularism and democracy. My fourth class was a freshman seminar on Human Rights and the Global South, where we engaged in a lot of discussions and readings on the history and intentions behind the idea of “human rights” with amazing professors. Although Zoom classes can get to be incredibly exhausting, some highlights from this semester include writing my Islam and Politics final paper comparing secular nationalist and Islamist resistance groups in Palestine, reading testimonies of indigenous activists in Spanish, discussing orientalism in Arabic class, and realizing how much “human rights” is based in political constructs rather than universal truths.
Virtual Model UN isn’t bad at all! Of the list of things I was planning to do in college, Model UN was definitely not one of them. MUN was one of my favorite activities in high school, but given that college MUN is so much more competitive, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t give it a shot. However, one of the benefits of Zoom calls is that they are great for lazy people, and I ended up applying and making it into the team! So far, I’ve been to a few Zoom simulations (mainly Crisis, which is a type of Model UN that I don’t have much experience with) and had a lot of fun debating and collaborating with other MUNers. I also have a theory that MUN (at least in high school) is biased towards tall people, so thankfully Zoom is such an equalizer. In addition to that, I’ve been involved with a Foreign Policy program researching US-Palestinian negotiations with a team of students, as well as Harvard’s South Asian cultural affinity groups!
I’m interning with my favorite podcast?? This was probably the most exciting and least expected part of this semester. As you may know, I’m obsessed with listening to podcasts, and in particular, I’m a huge fan of Kerning Cultures, a MENA-based podcast company that has shows in English and Arabic. I was so lucky to get the opportunity via a cold email, and it’s still surreal to think that I now get to join weekly calls with producers whose voices I’ve been listening to for years. I’ve been interning with the English editorial team, and my tasks are mainly based in research and writing. After having avidly followed Kerning Cultures for the past few years, it’s so exciting to be able to help with the behind the scenes, researching stories, supporting with interviews, and editing scripts, as well as some Instagram stories, such as a recent one about Palestinian solidarity in Moroccan soccer culture. The next season of KC’s English podcast comes out this spring and I can’t wait. 🙂
High school best friends are college best friends. Nearly every day in junior and senior year, my high school best friends and I would get on a WhatsApp call to work on homework together, and while I thought that the tradition would die with high school, thanks to the virtual circumstances, I’ve been Zoom studying regularly with the same high school friends (and occasionally meeting up as well)!
As I look back on this past semester, there’s definitely a lot that I missed from the typical college first year and these past few months certainly weren’t ideal, but I’m still grateful for some of the experiences that I’ve had, especially because of much of this wouldn’t have been possible in a regular year. ❤