Short Note: Isolation Abroad

This tree is a metaphor or something, I don't know.

I have always been hyper-aware of my ambition, to the point that I am constantly appraising myself vis a vis others’ accomplishments. I wish I could say with confidence that it is benign appreciation, and a desire to better myself. I’ve recently started accepting it for what COULD be: envy, a truly exhausting emotion to boot. What worries me now is not knowing whether my ambition comes from a place of sincerity or whether it is spurred purely by envy, a desire to be better-than-x. I am perfectly willing to admit that this could be me jumping to conclusions and selling myself short, but trying to be mindful of how I react to others’ success is a good practice regardless.

That is just the backdrop for what I really want to talk about: isolation. My ambition, whatever it may stem from, has led me to try to pursue original research during my intern ship in the Netherlands. I knew going in that I was overextending myself, but I was ready and willing to put in the work. But putting in the work requires sacrifice, and it’s one thing to overextend yourself in a familiar setting, with familiar comforts, but in a new country? I feel like I’m coming undone. I’ve been here almost two months – wild! – and I’m worried that I’m losing the nascent relationships I had established with people I have met thus far. I have to apologize for my absence at social events. I have to renege on promises I’ve made because a deadline is coming up and there is more work to be done than I expected. I can’t make plans even weeks in advance because – given the nature of my research – I don’t even know if I’ll be in the country then. I don’t fault the people around me for making plans without me. I totally get it. But the feeling of isolation it spurs has me asking whether my plans and ambitions are worth it.

That might be an overreaction; of course it’s worth it, conducting original research is a personal goal I’ve wanted to accomplish since I started college, and my research is on a topic I think is immensely important, that I care about deeply. I have somehow acquired funding for it, so it’s not even a question of if anymore. I literally have to see it through. But the prospect of staring down three more months like this, filled with half-commitments and apologies, is daunting nonetheless. I hope I can strike a balance between abating this isolation and still getting my work done. If not, I hope I have the emotional fortitude to be able to weather it.

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One year Outstanding

About a year ago (maybe give or take a few days) I sat down to write a blog post attempting to articulate my feelings about having experienced the Northeast Regional Model Arab League. I was absolutely overwhelmed, back then, taken aback by the incredible people I had met and invigorated by the competitive nature of the conference. A year ago, my friendship with Josh came into fruition and one year on I consider him one of my closest friends – my Palestinian Affairs bud, my very first partner to a conference, has now become a source of comfort when I need it most. I capped off NERMAL 2013 with a hard-earned Honorable Mention that Josh and I were extremely proud of (despite having my name butchered on the actual certificate).

Needless to say, I have a good amount of emotional attachment to the Northeast Regional. When this year’s conference rolled around I had a year’s worth of experience under my belt, the tutelage of experienced delegates, and not only some expertise and talent in speaking and policy but a familiarity with the Model circuit, resolution writing, procedure and – so proud of this one – even chairing!

But at no point did I think to myself, coming into NERMAL, that I was an expert or some kind of veteran. I knew I had improved a lot, but being a solo delegation is hard work and that’s what I was. So I shrugged my shoulders, took a deep breath, walked into the room with a big smile on my face and my name tag on my blazer and starting playing the role of a world-class delegate (model sims are a great example of “faking it ’til you make it” for those of us with diplomatic aspirations).


Ya Allah, khair: it’s been a hard semester. The universe has tested me at every turn; it’s stretched me thin enough that the figurative perforations were inevitable, shoved me through the emotional wringer and threatened to reverse all the progress I’ve made over the past couple of years. Every time I expected to crash and crash hard, though, I managed to pull myself together, took a deep breath and trucked the fuck on. But I still harbored disappointment in and with myself – “Who the hell are you?” – and no where was that more painfully evident than every Wednesday with the International Relations Council. IRC – Northeastern’s Model UN, NATO and Arab League programs fall under this umbrella – is supposed to be my escape from the daily grind of university, and my funk was threatening to besmirch even this. It succeeded at times: there were days where I would have to leave committee over and over again to stare at myself in the bathroom mirror and convince myself to not have a panic attack. I remember a day where I disappeared for more than an hour to hide in the corner of a hallway. I couldn’t perform to even a fraction of my abilities, let alone the best of them. IRC was threatening to become more of a trigger than the highlight of my week, and that prospect did not help absolve me of my self-loathing.

NERMAL, I told myself, NERMAL will be different.


The most amount of sleep I’ve gotten this weekend has been 5 hours but I have never felt better. I took the role of Lebanese delegate to heart. I had to redeem myself to the rest of the IRC, of course, but most importantly I needed to prove to myself that I haven’t failed.

So I made the decision to enjoy myself.

Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I vowed to outdo myself each day and feigned the happiness and confidence I’ve been possessed of so painfully rarely this semester. After a while – an hour tops – I didn’t have to feign a thing. I was having fun, enjoying my company, enjoying the challenge and the stimulation and rising to it. When Ryan asked me how I thought I was doing in committee, I could grin up at him and say “I’m runnin’ shit” with all the conviction in the world.

You know you feel good about committee when you feel justified in typing up a 3-clause joke resolution and actually submitting it.

Closing ceremony (I watched my joke resolution get projected on the screen and covered my face in embarrassment and a little bit of mirth-induced pride): awards. I conferred with my head delegate quietly, trying not to think about anything. Social Affairs – my committee – got called and my chair (a friend) got behind the podium. I watched, listened as he listed off the names of first the honorable delegates and then the outstanding delegates. When the second outstanding delegate wasn’t me, I finally let myself smile blearily.

I think I’ve got this.

Final Outstanding Delegate: Northeastern University, representation of Lebanon.

While I was walking over, a really dumb smile on my face, I couldn’t help but think “Shit, I hope my blazer is straight.” I took the certificate, shook my chair’s hand, and then he hugged me. I hugged him back and tried not to cry. As I walked back to the rest of my delegation, Ryan beckoned me over and gave me a great big squish of a hug of his own and a cheek-kiss. By that point, the tears had dissipated and I reveled in the giddiness of having finally done my team and myself proud after two months of sheer underperformance and self-loathing. I barely registered people aw-ing at our little display of best friend love.

I only let myself look at my certificate once I had sat back down. Neiha Lasharie. They spelt it right. The next chair started handing out the awards for their own committee. I wondered if it was self-absorbed to not be paying attention to the chair at the podium.

I realized I would rather be a little self-absorbed than locked up in a bathroom stall trying to remember how to breathe.

So I celebrated with everyone, shared in the revelry of being part of a damn good university and a damn good cohort of delegates, clapped until my hands were raw for all my friends who had done so freakin’ well – some of them after their own year of growth – and felt, once again, proud to be part of the IRC.

If NERMAL 2013 was my emotional introduction to the Model Circuit, NERMAL 2014 was my formal induction: and I chose to accept it wholeheartedly.

Typing this out, I realize that I left my certificate with Ryan and that means I probably won’t get it back for a while but that’s okay. I don’t need it. I don’t really need the material affirmation – not anymore. For the first time in months I’m happy from the core of my belly. This may not fix everything – I know it won’t – but it’s a sign that the universe hasn’t given up on me yet.

Cool. I’m not going to give up on the universe either. I’ve got shit to run.

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Assorted thoughts over winter break

There’s been so much happening that it’s easier to make a big post filled with a lot of little things than one large disjointed post. I’ve been in Dubai for the past couple weeks and am slated to be back in Boston around 2:30pm EST on the 2nd of January. I legitimately cannot believe it’s almost 2014, but I say that every year. Anyway.

i. I feel a little guilty for being so excited to go back to Boston, for referring to it as “home” after three and a half months of being there; but my heart is an easy thing to capture, and I leave bits and pieces of it wherever I go, a trail of breadcrumbs to follow back if I am ever lost. Certainly, the trail back to Boston is littered with the lion’s share of breadcrumbs – in fact, it is beginning to rival Lahore for hosting the largest piece of my heart. It’s easy for me to make homes wherever I go. The geography matters some, sure (Boston has college, Lahore has roots, Dubai has family, all have friends) but what home is, is familiarity. Dubai, while I know the formal details of the city, never felt familiar. I was here for a while, and I othered it (certainly, I did not allow myself to feel at home here, and that is my fault) and othered myself within it. Boston, however, I let seep into my being like a lover and even if I didn’t know how to formally navigate it, it was steeped in a nostalgia that I still do not entirely understand. Sure, Dubai has my family, and I love my family deeply…but I have always been independent, fiercely independent, and I have been just the slightest bit restless ever since I realized how the world holds all those years ago. Boston puts that restlessness at ease. I am independent, but still comfortable. Boston took my heart, sort of like a down-payment for my future there. And while the niggling sensation of guilt holds true, it’s my home now.

ii. Resolution is a Bad Word. There’s far too much baggage that comes with That Particular Word, one that evokes memories of forgotten promises and failed goals. You make resolutions with the expectation that all you’ve resolved is going to go to shit by February. So I’ve decided to eschew the word – I will, instead, use a much kinder, softer word, an easy word, a word like “goals.” Resolutions is hard, like a drill sergeant screaming “MAGGOT” at you all the time, watching you with beady eyes that expect you to fail. I’m not about that life. Any goals I set for myself are going to be called just that: goals. Less commitment, more breathing room, and less of a feeling of impending failure. (That being said, I refuse to bore people with my goals for 2014. You’re welcome to comment with your goals for the new year, however! I’d love to hear them!)

iii. Empty notebooks are a testament to my tumultuous identity as a writer. I have bought countless notebooks in the hopes that I will fill them up with writing – poetry, prose, essays, grocery lists, plot ideas, character sketches, etc. And yet, eventually, they are forgotten, abandoned at some corner of my desk, in a closet, the drawer where Things Go To Die. Still, notebooks have a magnetic appeal for me. Leatherbound, recycled paper, maps and cartographic wonders, adorned in creamy lace, hand-embroidered, they beckon my aesthetic and writerly sensibilities alike thither. I cannot seem to stop letting notebooks down, though, and even though I have been carrying around my most recent notebook (black, hard cover, spiral bound; simple, compact, doomed) wherever I go, I’m afraid it will share the same fate as my previous ventures into organizing my thoughts. I’m envious of people who have actually been able to retain years and years of writing in complete journals – and if you’re one of those people, really, be proud of yourself. I wish I had your patience and dedication, but I am as flaky as my commitment to writing is (and also needlessly hard on myself) so allow me, stranger, to live vicariously through you.

iv. This blog has received a considerable influx of followers and I can’t help but feel a kind of performance anxiety every time I write a post; I feel like nothing can live up to the post that brought everyone here in the first place, but at the same time, I don’t want to sacrifice frequency. It’s a weird area to navigate, and I’m still trying to figure it out. More to the point, I’m a little scared this blog is becoming too introspection-heavy with not enough societal/political stuff. I’ll figure that out.

v. Sometimes I miss fashion and fashion illustration so much that it hurts, and I’m filled with this deep longing for brassy, sultry music, cold nights, fairy lights, red lipstick and long walks.

vi. I wish I could play an instrument.

vii. There is so much pain and hurt in the world. Bad news comes in threes. I wish I could kiss away the horror – instead, I want to make my existence one that honors those in constant hurt. As silly as it sounds, I want my existence to be as reassuring as a mother’s kiss, my words a poetry, a salve for broken hands. It may be an audacious ambition, but what do we have if not audacity and hope?

viii. I have learnt to not count down to dates, and live in the present instead. It is the greatest gift I could have given myself.

ix. Time to get used to writing 2014, I guess.

Short note: Introductions and Goodbyes

I’m a little embarrassed posting this, I won’t lie, more so because a lot of the people I’m indirectly referencing in this post are on my Facebook friends list. But I need a place to gush and I think my friends are sick and tired of me at this point, SO WITHOUT FURTHER ADO:

Northeastern, in its infinite majesty, hosts a bunch of Model something-or-the-other conferences, including the North East Regional Model Arab League conference. I like Model conferences. I like them a lot. I like them so much that in tenth grade, I stole ModelUN posters from the various display boards in my high school. I hadn’t even done a conference yet. That’s how much I like Model conferences.

…the point is, I was beyond excited to take part in my first Model Arab League conference. Even if it was mandatory, I felt accomplished going into it. I didn’t really think about all the different people I’d get to meet: I had one goal in mind, and that was to not make an idiot of myself.

I’d like to think I succeeded in that endeavor – certainly, an honorable mention in the awards ceremony is testament to that – but I think something far more important happened over the weekend: I made friends, role models, met people who made this more than just an interesting competition. It turned into an experience, the kind that has to be italicized to emphasize its point. I ended up looking forward to my committee sessions, despite perpetual exhaustion, simply because I wanted to exchange ideas, pass half-serious notes, and glare in camaraderie with the friends I made. More than anything else, I feel like I’ve found role models and maybe that’s a hasty thing to say given it’s only been a couple of days, but I’m an impressionable person. I go with my gut and my gut, in this case, said, “Wow. You’ve got a lot to learn from these people. Don’t mess this up.”

I’d like to think I didn’t mess it up, and I probably didn’t, but my proneness to hero-worship makes it so I’m constantly checking myself, running through a mental list to ensure my “persona” (which, really, I’m too lazy to have) appears likable. When I find people I like, I don’t just leave it at that; I find myself pinpointing what it is about them that attracts me, how they differ from others, noticing little things about them that make me gush harder and harder. People are so immensely wonderful in general, and meeting so many great people in such little time is almost exhilarating for me. Certainly, it encourages me to want to challenge myself and become a better individual – kinder, more open, and intelligent.

I’m hoping I didn’t give off psychotic-short-girl-vibes and maintained some semblance of cool, but regardless, I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to meet such incredible, intelligent, wonderful individuals. NERMAL was an amazing experience and I’m already rearing to go for another conference. Even if my vocal cords are threatening to give out after overuse.

Short note: Reflection

Right now, it’s the 22nd of September. I moved to Boston on the 20th of August, a little more than a month ago; in four days, it’ll have been a month since I moved into Northeastern.

So much has happened since I moved to this city: I met up with old friends, finally met a lot of recently made friends, discovered the city, my new campus, had conversations til late in night with incredible people (you know who you are), played ridiculously intense boardgames, walked until my blisters had blisters, had incredibly silly movie nights, laughed til I cried, confined myself to the library to study, discovered how much I love my classes, and joined some excellent clubs and endeavors.

That’s just off the top of my head; in truth, so much has happened in the past 32 days that I’ve been unable to keep track. It’s surreal to think a month has passed, more surreal still to realize only a month has passed, when I feel as if I’ve been here for much longer.

Certain things have been hard (like not being able to eat chicken wings because of the Halal/Haram Issue TM) and I do miss my family and friends in Dubai, but there is no void in my heart – and I am so grateful for that.

My new life has been kind to me and though my feet ache and throb at this moment, I am happy and fulfilled, Alhamdulillah. I’m realizing my dream every single day and there’s no feelimg greater than that.

Update

Home is where I hang my hat – and maybe it’s the fact that my hats have found perches in various corners of my new bedroom, but I have never felt like an alien in 119 Light Hall. I am greeted by familiar things; my roommate’s lacrosse stick; our microfridge deluged by various teas and cups; post-it notes, pictures, letters from my friends, all rustling gently on the walls and cork boards. I’m home.

White noise from the fans, the click of the door as it closes behind me, I walk over to my desk and drop my bag on the ground, kick off my shoes and slip into my chair at the desk that’s already cluttered with textbooks and coupons. The effortlessness of settling into my room goes unnoticed. It feels like I’ve been here years, when it’s only been ten days.

Such little time and I’ve made myself a home away from home. I love every inch of this campus, even the mildly shady parking lot I have to cross through when I make my way back from my friends’ dorm at night. The familiarity is like muscle memory: the ease with which a pianist’s fingers flow over the black and white keys – a familiarity that was so decidedly nonexistent when I first moved to Dubai 6 years ago. Boston – Northeastern – is a different ballgame.

I iterate this over and over, I realize, but it’s incredible how much this city – and this campus – feels like Lahore for me. These friends I’ve made for myself may as well be childhood companions for how familiar they are to me; but at the same time, I realize there’s so much about my friends, about this campus, and about this city I don’t know, and that’s exhilarating. That novelty keeps me excited; with every revelation, i sink deeper and deeper in love with my new life – and the knowledge that I nonetheless have a life for me back home in Dubai, waiting until December or the summer to welcome me back, makes none of this bitter. There is no bite to this resounding sweetness; just pure contentment.

In a way, I feel guilty for not missing home as much as I feel I should; but then, isn’t that better than being upset over distance? I’m where I’ve wanted to be for three years, and it is above and beyond all I expected of it.

I am in love with life right now, Alhamdulillah.

Northeastern Husky, Class of ’17!

This is going to be a little awkward but I think I’ll just dive right into it.

I got rejected from Boston University. …if you know anything about me, it’s that BU was my dream school. I’ve been gushing about it for the last three years – everything I did in high school was in the name of BU. The end result of everything would’ve been to get one step closer to that school. Getting rejected last year was bad enough, but this year – it just shattered me. For a good 20 minutes after I got my rejection letter on Saturday night, I just lay in my bed and cried, inconsolable, all the pep talks and everything just went over my head. In retrospect, it was pretty pathetic, but I felt genuinely horrible.

The morning after was even worse. I just did not want to get out of bed because everything reminded me that I didn’t get BU. I opened google chrome and my most visited website thumbnail for BU was updated with a “Welcome, class of 2017!” banner.

You know that expression “rubbing salt in someone’s wounds”? Yeah. That times 10.

After a little while But then I realized something. I had gotten into five universities. All great schools, with Northeastern on par with BU. I realized that…I was so obsessed with Boston University that I didn’t allow myself the luxury of falling in love with other schools. And that was a big mistake on my part. But now, after looking extensively at Northeastern University, I realized that – for me – BU wasn’t the best school. It was always NEU. It was always the Huskies, with its co-ops and career services and combined major programs and thematic residences that was practically tailor-made for me.

For some perspective: Northeastern is famed for its co-op programs but I didn’t know about them until Saturday – after I got rejected! – because that’s just how obsessed I was with BU and now – I won’t say I’m obsessed with NEU because I realize what a dangerous word that is. But I am definitely in love with it. I am excited. I am beyond excited to go there, and now with my enrollment deposit sent, it’s more or less a reality.

So yeah. I was rejected from BU. But that’s okay. And that’s what I want everyone to know, too – people in my position, people waiting to hear back from colleges, people planning on applying soon – that it is okay to be rejected from one university, or rejected from anything, really, because life is full of posisbilities and probabilities and opportunities and it’s just up to you, yourself, to give yourself the liberty of allowing yourself to broaden your horizons and open yourself up to new paths and routes because everything will end up where you want it to end up as long as you work for it.

I realize that now. And it’s the best feeling in the world. So take my word for it. 

PS: Also, I love Huskies, so I mean, a perfect mascot. What could be better.

PPS: Yep! That’s the end of all my college tension right there! If you want to go over my college posts, here you go! All college-related posts will be tagged as Northeastern University now.

PPPS: Honorable mention to Jafar for being a bro through all my BU related angst! ❤

2/9 & 3/9

The past week has been filled with ups. So much so that in the back of my mind I was afraid that any semblance of bad energy would make me crash.

Apparently not! Thursday morning, I found out I got into Emerson College – making it 2/9! – and this morning I found out I got rejected from Brandeis University! …again!

Which, you know, kind of really sucks. No one likes rejection. I certainly don’t. But in a way it’s a testament to how much I’ve grown as a person that I was able to collect myself with a few deep breaths, a shower and some good breakfast.

Now, apart from the obvious question which is what in the ever-loving cosmos does Brandeis  want from me I don’t really mind. I feel grounded. I feel more human and more…concerned with myself and my sole existence right now than I have in the past week which is a really good feeling. And as I sip tea – Peppermint and Eucalyptus, amazing combination – I think about the fact that, well, at least it’s not like last year. It’s not like “Oh, hey, how about we start you off with a nice, resounding rejection?” so kudos for that, o powers-that-be.

I think more than anything else, I’m just so relieved that my self-esteem doesn’t rely on rejections from schools I don’t even want to particularly attend. Granted, it does freak me out a little bit – what about Boston University? Literally you could reject me from any university except that one and I’d be okay. The Ivy Leagues were always a long shot, there were solid safeties, a couple of other schools here and there, but BU was always top priority. The past few sentences, by the way, are an example of digression.

I know this blog post is all over the place but it’s just something I need to get out. More than anything else it’s a reminder to myself that, hey, it’s all good. You’re all good. Everything’s fine. The world most certainly hasn’t ended.

And there’s five other universities to hear back from.

So as it stands, yeah, 2/3 isn’t so bad. Not bad at all. So the waiting game continues and the nail-biting goes on.

Next word: 20th March. Come at me, Suffolk.

1/9

I’ve been posting a lot of personal posts lately, I know. Nothing too hard hitting, nothing too jarring, but I guess that’s the nature of the phase of life I’m in. I’m restless, I can see the end just around the corner, and I want time to pass even faster than it is already. Of course, this is juxtaposed with a lot of sadness and melancholy. Again, nature of my life at the moment.

Yesterday, however, I received my first offer, from the University of Massachusetts (at Amherst!)…with a neat little merit scholarship to go with it. It was 3am, I was spouting philosophical, existential bullshit on twitter, and then I got the email. Emotions were felt, some of that restlessness was alleviated, then I fell asleep.

I woke up and the physical offer package was already there!

That’s when I realized how desperately I needed this reassurance. I was panicking. I know decisions aren’t due to start coming in until March or April, but the panic was definitely settling in. Last year was still heavy on my mind: rejections aren’t the best first decisions to come back to you, so even though UMass isn’t, in all honestly, my top choice, it is still a great school that thought I was good enough to be awarded a merit scholarship along with my offer…and I can’t tell you what a wonderful feeling it is.

My darling friend, Jem, verbalized the elation I was feeling: this is, at the very least, a confirmation that I will be going to America for college. Four years of hard work will be coming into fruition very soon in the form of offers – and maybe even more scholarships! Well. Let’s hope, anyway.

DISCLAIMER: I know university isn’t the most important thing in the world, and I most certainly agree that universities do not determine a person’s worth. It’s just that for me, personally, university is important because I have made it up to be so given my life goals and ambitions.

Also, this doesn’t count as a short note because this is another series of sorts – I’ve applied to nine universities, and with every offer or rejection, I’ll put up  a new post. I’ll be tagging them “?/9” just so you know! 🙂 

Love Letter to Sociology

Sociology, my love-

I hope I have not offended you by turning my attention from you for but a few minutes. You need not worry – I’ll always come back to you – but I sincerely felt that this could not wait. I need you to know that I love you. Deeply. Unerringly. Irreparably. That I am willing to commit to spending my life in pursuit of the knowledge and insight you give me; that I want to spend everyday feeling the exhilaration and excitement I feel when I thumb through textbooks and scroll through articles and write testaments to your beauty in the form of sixteen mark essays; that you are easily my great love in life and that I feel there is no greater decision I have made – though it was a non-decision, really, a no-brainer – than ticking the “Sociology” option for my A Level subjects.

You lounge on the tip of my tongue, you, in all your manifestations as theories, names, perspectives, waiting to dive headfirst into any conversation I have because everything – everything – is so relevant to you. I marvel over you in long metro rides against the backdrop of music and dim, monotonous, crisp sounding announcements of what station is next.

You – my favorite subject, my future discipline, my life-long partner if you will it – light up my life. And maybe more than a love letter, this is a proposal – a request for you to accept me in holy academic matrimony, for now and forever, till death do us part.

Perhaps I go too far. I apologize. All I want is for you to know how much I love you – that I promise to be a faithful adherent of you as a student, as a life-long learner, and as a citizen of the world.

I should get back to you. I’d hate to keep you waiting.

Yours, in academia and in love,

Neiha.