March 22, 2014

"One Way or Another!"

Dear Reader,

I wasn't sure how I was going to study abroad, but in 10th grade, I made my first attempt. With high hopes, I applied for the Kennedy-Lugar scholarship program which would allow me to spend my Junior year of high school outside of the United States. After an excruciatingly long wait, I found out that I didn't make the cut. Although I was crushed by the rejection, I had the feeling that I would get another chance. 

Not long after getting that disappointing email, my dad first mentioned the Middle East. For his job in the oil business, he had traveled the UAE to help out some companies. When he did his engineering thing, he made a good impression on his coworkers. As soon as he hinted at that whole "Hey, let's move to the Middle East!" thing, I wrote a persuasive essay to convince him to take the overseas job. After reading it, he said that he'd see what he could do. So, while that was still way up in the air, I continued searching for alternate ways that I could get myself abroad. After a little bit of research, I discovered the NSLI-Y program. (Here's part of the official description of the program...)

"The National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, provides merit-based scholarships for eligible high school students and recent high school graduates to learn less commonly taught languages in summer and academic-year overseas immersion programs."

The more I read about the program, the more certain I became that it was created for people like me. As I waited for the application to open, my dad started mentioning Abu Dhabi a little more often. Slowly, we started to get more information about that overseas job. For the next few months, time seemed to move at a dying snail's pace. At long last, everything started to fall in place for the move to the UAE. In September 2013, the trigger was pulled and we moved overseas. 

So, I was now studying abroad. Sweet! But I hadn't forgotten about NSLI-Y. I filled out the application in the hotel, hit that submit button, and waited in anticipation once again to find out if I was a semi-finalist. This time, I was not disappointed by the email I received. As a semi-finalist, I completed medical forms, did a video interview, and started waiting again. Fortunately, I didn't have to wait very long. The much anticipated email came surprisingly early. As soon as I opened it up and read "We are pleased to inform y-" I ran through the house dancing. Later, I sat down and read the specifics. "Your scholarship is for Summer in the Arabic language. Your program will take place in Rabat, Morocco."

Don't give up when setbacks occur. Be persistent. Work hard. Remember that the best way to predict your future is to create it. 

Rock on. NM

March 9, 2014

"Zumba and Moments of Reflection"

Dear Reader,

I often find myself in situations where I stop and wonder at where life has taken me. A little over a week ago, I was in Oman at a choral festival. During the final concert of that festival, as the choir swelled in unison and filled the auditorium with sweet music, I had a reflective moment. Here I am in Muscat, singing a Mormon Tabernacle Choir piece with kids from Africa, the Middle East, and India. Two days ago, I was journeying in the dunes outside of Abu Dhabi with the youth from the Abu Dhabi Stake. A while after the sun sank behind the sloping sand, I laid down on a chill dune and gazed up into the night sky. As I listened to the fire crackle, I had another one of those reflective moments. Here I am in the Emirates, camping under the starry sky in good company. Just today, my P.E. teacher brought in a Zumba instructor to lead our class in some spicy exercise. As my peers and I rocked our hips to the beat, I couldn't help but smile as I reflected on the absurdity of the situation. Here I am in gym class, shimmying with people from all over the world. 

These moments happen often and serve as sweet reminders that the world is full of possibilities, full of opportunities for personal growth, and full of moments to remember. I'm grateful for the chance I've had to live and grow here in the Emirates. My experiences abroad have shaped me. Humbled me.

It's been six months since our plane first touched down in Dubai. Life is good. Rock on. NM