Saturday, August 1, 2009

Many Finals

Today I am writing on my last day in Tunisia—a country that welcomed me two months ago and that has since housed both my frustration and excitement about learning Arabic, countless experiences in every one of its four corners and that has inspired and shaped many friendships across national and state borders. When I moved back to the States after living in Germany, my host family taught me a very useful expression—one eye crying, the other smiling. I think this is a fitting proverb for my departure from Tunisia—I hadn’t admitted how much I liked this country, its people or how very much I appreciated all the individuals in the program until the past few days, when everyone’s voice began to carry this nostalgic tone that induces me to tear up (just a little). The past week has indeed been filled with a lot of in-program reflection, juxtaposed with the nerves of taking a huge final (worth 100 points, compared to our usual 20 point exams) and an oral proficiency interview administered by representatives of the Department of State. I am happy to report that I passed all of the above and pulled out an A in the program (I’ll have proof to put on the fridge). But with the excitement of the academics coming to a much needed close, also comes the reality of good-byes. Yesterday, we had our final banquet and graduation ceremony. Every student brought two members of their host family to a beautiful out-doors event held at a classy hotel in Sidi Bou Said. We ate a buffet (a very fitting mélange of American and Tunisian foods and a reminder of how excited I am to eat some of my favourite American foods again), spent at least an hour taking photos of every combination of students and teachers imaginable and then walked across the “stage” to get our diplomas—cased in a beautiful burgundy folder with a door to Sidi Bou in gold on the cover. It was so much like a graduation—everyone milling around after the last name had been called, not really wanting to say good-bye to all the teachers or close the official door to our summer in Tunisia.

I’m very excited for what comes next though, for me and for everyone. Students on this program are going to be scattered across the globe—one friend is beginning a master’s program in Paris, another is doing missionary work in Niger, one is starting a new job on the Mexico border, one is moving to St. John’s, others are studying abroad or just graduated and are waiting to answer the question of what comes next. As for me, I am going to Senegal on August 30—leaving one day before my birthday and touching down on my actual birthday. I hope Senegal will be as wonderful a host as Tunisia has been and Tunisia has definitely given me advice to take to Senegal with me: from what not wear in a scorching climate (unfortunately, most of what I brought with me/own) to how rewarding it can be to reach out to people and take chances with your language. I will be going into Senegal with more confidence than I had originally anticipated, but stand ready and willing to have all of my expectations turned on their face.

And with this, I officially write the last period on my chapter about Tunisia—although the chapter will never really be closed.

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