An Unexpected Debate

I followed my new friend in to the ornately decorated halls of the Dar al-Hadith Hassania building. The zelij (tile) covered walls and cedar wood carved doors surrounding a bubbling fountain made this the fanciest university I had ever attended. But upon entering the classroom everything was familiar. Students chatted in clumps and others were deeply engrossed in reviewing notes. I was out of place as the only non-Muslim and the only woman with uncovered hair but in classic Moroccan fashion I was instantly welcomed. The students were preparing to debate the legalization of marijuana in their English class. All these students were studying for their masters in Islamic studies at the most prestigious religious educational institution in Morocco.

The class quickly settled down when the teacher arrived and the debate started. The students command of English was impressive in presenting clear and concise arguments.  The pro-legalization team concluded that the economic benefits to the state out weighed the health risks to the users. Just like you cannot prohibit people from eating sugar and smoking cigarettes because it is unhealthy, Marijuana cannot be outlawed due to some bad heath effects especially when there are also medicinal and industrial uses for it. On the other hand, the con team said the risks outweighed the benefits. Smoking marijuana or hashish could cause cancer, the death of brain cells, users become less motivated to work and criminal activity increases. They concluded that the state must not value the economy over the health of society. The debate was reminiscent of my own experience debating the topic in my ethics class last semester at Georgetown. In the end the pro-legalization team won and both sides agreed that legalizing the growth of the plant for industrial or medical uses was beneficial.

The students were passionate in their arguments but one student clarified that in reality it is for the ulema, scholars on national religious council, and the parliament to decide if legalization was in line with both Morocco’s religious identity and economic strategy. The class debate parallels an on going national discussion of the legalization of farming cannabis for industrial and medical uses. Morocco is second only to Afghanistan in the production of hashish, resin made from the cannabis plant, and its growth is the main economic livelihood of many farmers in the north. The recreational use of hashish or marijuana will likely remain a criminal offense. The use of drugs, because they cause harm to the body, is forbidden in Islam. It seems unlikely then that Morocco, with its laws based on the Maliki School of Islamic jurisprudence, would decriminalize the consumption of these drugs in the near future. But the economic benefits from legalizing cannabis for industrial or medical use would be very tangible in Morocco.

I never expected to hear a debate on the legalization of marijuana in Morocco, let alone at a state run religious education center. But interacting with these students, who are likely to become imams or professors of Islamic studies after they graduate, in such an engaging and open-minded manner is a reminded of the real purpose of higher education and especially study abroad: creating space to engage in dialogue with perspectives different than your own.

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You’re Never to Old to Play in the Mud

The best way to experience another culture, is to jump right in! This is what I did this past weekend, mud and all!

I awoke on Saturday morning to 20 mile per hour winds and pouring down rain. As any Irish person would do, I had my cup of tea, layered on my waterproof clothing, and ventured out into the storm, not letting the weather alter my plans. I was going on a UCD Center for Study Abroad (CSA) trip to Causey Farm in County Meath. When we arrived at the farm, our first activity was making Irish soda bread. The lead chef gave a five-minute demonstration of how to make the bread and then set us to work, making loafs in groups of two. The cooking environment was quite relaxed: “oh just add one heaping coffee cup’s worth” of this or “a little more than a dash” of that. We all passed the ingredients around; however, the eggs were missing from the table. When we asked about this, we were told we would have to catch our eggs. The lead chef proceeded to actually throw an egg to each group. Gary, my cooking buddy, was thrown the egg. To his dismay, either the shell was soft or he caught it with too much force. No matter the explanation, the reality was the egg broke in Gary’s hands, sending splashes of yolk to his apron and the table. Thankfully, Gary was a good sport about it, and we all broke out in laughter. To our surprise, the chef responded, “We don’t waste eggs here so you’ll have to use that one.” We worked together to pick out the bits of shell, and added the egg to our mixing bowl. (I was quite thankful we had washed our hands before beginning cooking!) We finished our baking, marked our bread with flags with our names on them, and sent them off to be baked.

Next, we ventured to a 200 year old barn to learn some traditional Irish dancing. It took us a little while to learn the steps, but we soon caught on and had a blast showing off our Irish dancing skills. Once we had reached our dancing capacity for the day, we circled the barn to reach the section that housed the animals. There we were greeted by a 3-week-old litter of puppies, Irish reindeer, and a one-day-old piglet! We all swooned over the animals, taking turns cuddling with and petting the puppies. I even got the chance to feed the piglet with a bottle. Then we met Daisy the cow and each had a chance to milk her. It came time for us to say our farewells and take a hayride down to the bog. When I heard the term “bog,” the first thing that came to mind was the Ocean Spray cranberry bog commercials. (Wow am I a product of American capitalism!) I soon learned that Irish bogs are a compilation of soil, water, and decaying plant matter. Many Irish families used to own their own bog plots (some continue to own them today). The bog serves as great insulation, and food products could be stored below ground prior to the invention of refrigeration. The primary usage of bog lands, though, was to create peat bricks, blocks of dried bog that could be burned for heat and light. Our guide explained how in the summer, visitors are encouraged to take a plunge into the bog, but unfortunately, due to the cold and rainy November conditions, she figured none of us would have interest. Boy was she wrong! Before she was even done speaking, I was already taking off my shoes. (Given the weather, I had brought an entire change of clothes, so nothing was holding me back from getting a little muddy.) With our guide’s grace, a few of us made the plunge into the bog. It was so squishy and tickled my toes. As I trudged forward, I suddenly sank all the way past my knees, to which our guide responded, “Oh yeah, I forgot to warn you; at points it is chest deep.” Upon that announcement, I decided I had better return to shallower parts, and I began the effort filled journey of slogging back to the edge of the bog. Despite being covered in muck and quite cold, I could not stop smiling. I had never had an experience like this; plus, I was quite encouraged by the fact that mud from bog lands serves as a great moisturizer!

It took quite some time to scrub off all the mud, but it was totally worth it! We concluded our visit to Causey Farm by eating our homemade Irish soda bread and butternut squash soup. On our way back to UCD, we stopped at Trim Castle for a visit. It was surely another memorable day in Ireland!

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Top 5 Things I Miss While Abroad (and why I’m not complaining)

5. Fun weekends: It’s very difficult to have a sterotypical fun college weekend here. Bars and clubs are extremely expensive, and we usually have to take a cab to go anywhere. However, while I miss the social life on campus, I’ve been able to foster the social aspect of normal daily or weekly activities and appreciate each time I have been able to get away from campus.

4. Fall weather: Whenever I see pictures of the beautiful fall weather on social media, I remember that this is the first time in my life I won’t be able to experience fall. By the time I return home I’ll have lived through half a year of summer weather. But is that necessarily a bad thing? It’s going to be 80 degrees and sunny for the rest of the week.

3. Football: If I want to watch my favorite teams play, I often have to stay up well into the early morning. Sometimes when my VPN is slow, I resort to a shady online stream. The sport around here is soccer, the real football. I’ve come to appreciate the Beautiful Game, espcially considering my team back home, the Indianapolis Colts, are having a rough season.

2. Food: The first thing I’m going to eat when I return to the United States is a nice big cheeseburger. Pork and beer will be a priority too. I am not a picky eater; I usually eat anything. But no one does American food like the US of A. I have branched out and enjoyed middle eastern food and Indian food, a new favorite of mine. And whenever I complain about the dining hall food, I remember that Leo’s isn’t much better.

1. Friends & Family: It’s impossible to avoid missing my friends from home. It’s difficult realizing that when I come back I’ll only have a semester left with my senior friends and a year and a half left with my junior friends. A week from today is Thanksgiving, and it’ll be the first I spend away from my family. However, I’ve made incredible friends here, and I’m sure next semester I’ll be missing them and begging them to visit me in DC.

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The Problem with Comfortable

Hej fra København!

It’s hard to believe that I am already in the latter half of my study abroad experience. Classes have long ago started; countless papers have been submitted; Danish pronunciations have improved (kinda?); suitcases have been unpacked, repacked, and unpacked again; weekend trips around Europe have been successfully taken. This semester continues to exceed all of my expectations. As cliché as it sounds, every city that I visit manages to take a part of my heart (and all of my wallet.) And, every time I return from traveling, I am so excited to be back in Copenhagen. Weird how this city has started to feel like home—my home away from home (Georgetown) away from home (California?)

The first month of the semester, I was still very much in the honeymoon phase of study abroad. It kind of felt like summer camp, or like new student orientation during the first week of freshman year, when you constantly feel overwhelmed and overjoyed by all the people you want to meet and all the things that you want to do. My first month abroad was filled with introductions—a lot of “What’s your name? Where do you go to school? What are you majoring in? Where in Copenhagen are you living?”—and a lot of tourism—being obnoxious and American, taking selfies (and yes, with a selfie stick) in front of gorgeous castles and and bustling streets.

As the semester progressed, I started to settle in. I had my favorite coffee shop, my go-to grocery store, and my reliable late-night eatery (shawarma, anyone?) I knew where all my classes were and how long it took to walk to each. I deleted the Uber app off my phone (illegal in Denmark!), mastered the public transportation system, and rented a bike, Copenhagen’s preferred method of commute.

I grew fond of the concept of hygge (pronounced: hoo-ga), a Danish word that roughly translates to coziness. Think friends, family, food, and good vibes. Hygge is the atmosphere of coziness created when enjoying food, drink, close friendships in the moment. “The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family—that’s hygge too. There’s nothing more hygge than sitting round a table, discussing the big and small things in life. Perhaps hygge explains why the Danes are the happiest people in the world?”

And over the last month, I started to understand the difference between a weekend visit to a city and living in a city. I began to call Copenhagen home.

With a little over a month of my study abroad experience remaining, I want to continue to go beyond my comfort zone and seek new experiences. In a nutshell, Copenhagen has become comfortable. The good in that statement is obvious—it’s amazing how I can now say that I know a European metropolis considerably well! The not-so-good side is that it has caused me to trade in adventure for comfort; to put it bluntly, it has made me lazy. I have my favorite places, so I no longer frequent new cafes or restaurants. I feel that I have all the time here, so I’ll occasionally choose napping over exploring. I started to take Copenhagen for granted, so I became lazy.

I have fallen in love with the Copenhagen that I know—the people, the culture, and most importantly, the pastries (they’re called Danishes after all). But I also realize that there is still so much more to this city than what I have experienced. I love being a tourist, obnoxious selfie-stick and all. But understanding a new culture requires that I go beyond taking pictures in front of larger-than-life castles and churches. And I’m determined to make the most of my remaining time. Copenhagen bucket list, you’re on.

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Resident or Tourist?

The language barrier in Morocco has not posed as great a challenge as expected, I have actually loved communicating in a mix of formal Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, and French to make myself understood. Culture shock was never really a problem for me and I have felt incredibly welcomed by every Moroccan I meet. Street harassment, while not something I appreciate, has not colored my time here. The biggest challenge during my time in Morocco has been something totally unexpected: walking the line between tourist and resident.

Making way from home to school through the vegetable souq , I smile at several of the vendors who know me from buying goods with my mama. I almost always run in to a neighbor and we stop kiss each other’s cheeks three times and chat about family and the day. In Rabat, and especially in the old Medina where I live, I feel like part of a community. I may look different and not speak Arabic or French fluently but that has not prevented me from becoming integrated into my host family. From their kindness and generosity in showing me around, helping my Arabic, and introducing me to lots of friends and family, I feel at home in Rabat. I know how to get around Rabat and can haggle with a cab driver who assumes I am a tourist. I have become friends with the local Moroccans who run my favorite surf shop. I am so grateful for this ease I feel living in a very far away and foreign city.

Outside of Rabat, however, I am still a tourist. On visits to Fez, Marrakech, and many smaller cities in between I am always overcome with a level of discomfort. I may still be able to communicate in Arabic and French, but I have no community in these cities. I don’t know my way around. Further, the reason I came to these cities is to visit historical and very touristy sites such as the Fez medina and Jemaa al-Fna square in Marrakech.

Exploring in a group of American friends I feel so conspicuous. We draw a great deal of attention and the comments and stares from local Moroccans increase. I attempt haggle down the cost of a blanket in Arabic but the shopkeeper just smiles and switches to English. He doesn’t take me seriously and because I am clearly a foreigner hikes up the price. I get frustrated when a taxi driver in Marrakesh wants to charge me 50 dirhams for a cab ride that I know should only cost 7 or 8.

I recognize that I am clearly not Moroccan. I am an American college student who has the privilege the of living in, learning from, and exploring Morocco for four months. I can’t expect people to treat me like a local, but when choosing this specific program I was impressed by the focus SIT put on having students be fully immersed in host culture and life. This is certainly the case for in Rabat. I feel well integrated because while I still stick out I can move around the city inconspicuously and communicate easily. But once I am outside of Rabat, the reality of my foreignness is apparent again.

Navigating the line between feeling like a community member and resident of Rabat, but a tourist in the rest of Morocco has been my greatest challenge while studying abroad. In reflecting on this experience I have questioned the differences between Moroccan cities like how Rabat is not a tourist destination but Marrakech is and how this plays into my different feelings. But more deeply this experience has made me question what the difference between tourist and resident really is? In my case it is related to being welcomed in to a local community.

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An atypical but thought-provoking tourist experience


Buenos Aires, especially during the springtime, offers an incredible array of attractions for tourists (and of course, for curious study abroad students) to better acquaint themselves with the city. However, many of the most popular sites, from the botanical gardens to the zoo to the plethora of art museums, are located in the affluent northern neighborhoods. Interested in seeing a different side of BA, a few friends and I decided to take a forty-minute colectivo ride deep into the city to explore the famous neighborhood of La Boca.

The English translation of la boca is ‘the mouth’—and the neighborhood is so aptly named because it is located at the mouth of the Riacheulo river that runs along the city’s southern border. While La Boca was originally used solely for shipyards, it now has developed a reputation as a working class and run-down neighborhood. Despite this, it has remained a popular tourist spot for its vibrantly colored houses and famous pedestrian street, the Caminito.

Since it had unfortunately begun to rain, we decided to check out Fundación Proa, the modern and contemporary art museum located along the river. It would be an understatement to say that this was unlike anything I had ever experienced considering almost every work of art in the exhibit was designed as a pun to reflect on political, social, and economic questions. (I think the group favorite was a flashing sign of the communist hammer and sickle formed out of punctuation marks.)

The most compelling part of the museum was the “Forensis” exhibit that displayed the work of Forensic Architecture. This forensic agency, comprised of architects, filmmakers, theorists, and scientists, developed projects to explore abuses of state power in the context of political struggle and violent conflict. One project, for example, focused on drone-fired missiles that leave holes smaller than the size of a single pixel on highest resolution as well as the implications this has on the accurate documentation of drone strike satellite imagery. These questions about the boundaries of law and vision specifically pertaining to drones, which have such a prominent presence in U.S. military operations, were very provocative and powerful.

Hoping to see something slightly more…light-hearted, we headed outside to explore the Caminito, which sadly only extends for a few blocks before dissolving into the surrounding neighborhood. In 1960, local La Boca artist Benito Quinquela Martín painted the street and constructed a makeshift stage for outside performances, turning the neighborhood into an artistic haven. Today, however, the street has developed a bit of an inauthentic Epcot-esque feel.

As promised by the online travel guides, there were multicolored buildings, elaborate murals, and tango performers galore. But as we traversed the street, we quickly realized that it was obviously designed to be a tourist trap; it was crowded with vendors selling overpriced knick-knacks and generic street food. It was also interesting to note the contrast between the fairly poor area and the wealthier visitors (some shamelessly toting their selfie sticks) who flocked to La Boca for the day. To me, it was a pretty visible manifestation of the north-south socioeconomic divide that characterizes the city.

After my experience in La Boca, I would say that it certainly made for a very unique—and unexpected—day excursion. And while it may not have been the most exciting, it was certainly one of the most insightful.

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“To be surrounded by peers is one thing. To have companionship is another.”

Arriving at UCD for study abroad, I was quite torn. Part of me wanted to jump in and get involved in campus life, joining clubs and going to events. However, the other half of me had reservations. Did I want to make commitments, which would deter me from traveling and exploring? Would I be able to form lasting relationships in just four short months?

I went to Freshers week (the UCD version of a club fair) to check out all the “socs” (societies; the UCD term for clubs). It was like freshman year all over again… I found myself wanting to join way more than I would be able to realistically commit to: the Nursing Society, Christian Union, Newman Society (Catholic group), Club Basketball, International Student Society, and Erasmus Student Network. The aura of club joining was short lived because I quickly found my door to Ireland and the rest of Europe: the cheap flights of Ryanair! Thus, I began traveling, visiting many wonderful places including Paris, Leeds, Cork, Killkenny, London, Edinburgh, Barcelona, and Athens. However, I still felt a part of my study abroad experience was missing… I had yet to find Irish friends, and I did not experience the strongest connection to UCD. The only soc which I was actively involved with was the Club Basketball Team, but the majority of my teammates are UCD alumni and are much older.

I began seeking the “missing part,” though I was unsure exactly what this was. Five weeks ago, I attended my first Christian Union meeting. I was quickly impressed by how welcoming all the members were. The members are a broad mix from undergraduates to grad students and Irish students to international students, but we are all bound by common beliefs. It was amazing how I felt a sense of belonging and peace so quickly. Each week, we have various events ranging from Morning Prayer to Bible Studies to pick up soccer games to postering (where we pose a thought provoking question and walk around campus, having our fellow students write down their answers). My favorite events are the Wednesday meetings, which break up the week quite nicely. During these meetings, we focus on a Bible passage and invite a speaker, generally a member of a local Christian church, to lead us in a Bible study. Other than in academic religion classes, which I was obliged to take, I have never sat down and dissected Bible passages with my peers. I have been amazed by how two different people can gain different insight from the same passage, likely due to the different cultures they have been raised in and the perspectives which they have been cultivating since their youth. It is also wonderful to see just how many people attend the meetings, giving up their time to join in fellowship with others and expand their faith.

Two weekends ago, I went on the Christian Union Big Weekend Away. Not only was it with our Christian Union but with Christian Unions from all over Ireland. In just two short days, I found my former misconception become obsolete; valuable friendships can be created from just two days away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. The retreat was themed “Uncovering John: Explore, Inspire, Uncover,” in which we broke down the Gospel of John. The weekend also had a balance of “banter” and “craic” (Irish for fun) as my Irish friends say. In addition to our Bible studies, we played basketball, dressed up according to the theme (it was Halloween weekend after all!), had an open mic night, and a bonfire. We also spent time exploring the beautiful grounds of our retreat center: Castledaly Manor in Moate, Athlone, within central Ireland.

One of  our speaker stated, “To be surrounded by peers is one thing. To have companionship is another.” As I looked at those around me, I came to the realization that I had found companionship; this was exactly what I had been missing. Companionship literally means those who one can share bread with. Historically, meals have been an important time for gathering with others and sharing ideas. In a modern context, the word implies strong friendships in which all members feel a sense of belonging and have the courage to exchange ideas and disagree respectfully.

I have travelled to many far away places this semester; yet, one of my most valuable experiences  occurred  at Castledaly Manor, only an hour and a half drive from Dublin. Over the course of the weekend away, I had time to reflect upon how much I have grown through the experience of study abroad and on all I have learned about myself and others. Most importantly, though, I learned to not just exist in a community, even if I am only temporarily present. Instead, I must always seek out companionship, a vital component of my human nature.

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The Cuba Factor

Study abroad in Cuba isn’t all sunshine and clear, Caribbean water, although there is certainly plenty of each. Just like any study abroad experience, especially in a developing, non-English speaking country, there are challenges. Whether it be navigating unfamiliar local customs, battling with the language barrier, or just finding a bathroom, it’s not easy. Your mind is under constant stress from the influx of the new, the strange, and the uncomfortable. I more or less anticipated that there would be hard moments in the face of culture shock, especially considering where I chose to study for the semester. What I failed to account for, however, is what I’ve begun referring to as the Cuba Factor.


Cuba Factor (n): the way in which Cuba unfailingly finds the most unimagined, inconvenient, and frustrating ways to make life harder for those living there.


The Cuba Factor is what makes you mumble under your breath exasperatedly, “classic Cuba” when carefully laid plans go drastically wrong or when the most unexpected thing occurs at the drop of a hat to throw things into chaos. Irritatingly, it always manages to manifest itself as the thing that will aggravate you the most and appears in the moments where you have just begun to think that you finally have life in Cuba figured out. Somehow, Cuba has the magic ability to find just the right buttons to push to force you into a state of discomfort, frustration, and stress. Certainly, the general lack of efficiency and organization in Cuban society contributes to the difficulty of life here, but there is also something else about Cuba that goes beyond inefficiency and disorganization, something uniquely Cuba, that can only be summed up by the concept of the Cuba Factor.

Take, for example, an instance a couple weeks ago. While abroad, it’s not unheard of or even uncommon to get sick or at least feel a little physically off. After all, we are being thrust into brand new environments with new germs, bacteria, hygiene practices, etc. However, because Cuba is oh so original, it added its own twist and I managed to end up with head lice of all things. As a result, all of a sudden, my days went from exploring all that Havana had to offer to considering the style and color of wig I was going to get due to the cocktail of very-harmful anti-lice shampoos I was using and the unbelievable amounts of hair that I was combing out while trying to rid myself of the bugs and their eggs. Classic Cuba.

Another illustrative example of the Cuba Factor at work just occurred in the last week as my program and I were attempting to return from a lengthy (well, certainly lengthier than we’d intended) trip to the Oriente, or the Eastern part of the island. Unfortunately, it was a trip that required airplane tickets, a fact that never fails to create problems here, and upon arriving at the airport in Santiago de Cuba (Cuba’s second largest city and the birthplace of the Revolution) to return home to Havana, we learned that our flight had been canceled. Why? Because there were no planes. If that doesn’t sum up my Cuba experience, I don’t know what does. Anyways, cue an extended period of time stranded in the East missing classes and without access to Wi-Fi. Finally, exhausted and desperate to get back to our homestays, we were able to arrive back in Havana on a flight that left hours later than it was supposed to (because ‘On Time’ never actually means ‘On Time’ in Cuba), get our bags (which miraculously did not get lost), and get on the bus to deliver us from the airport only to find that a train stuck on its tracks across the main road in and out of the city meant that we would not be going anywhere for the foreseeable future. Classic Cuba.

It’s instances like these that exemplify the infuriating and exasperating experience that is studying abroad in Cuba. I’ve always prided myself on being a go-with-the-flow, roll with the punches kind of person but here, I often get so frustrated by my lack of control that calming myself down takes longer than I’d like to admit. However, at the end of the day, I know the Cuba Factor is what’s challenging me to grow. The obstacles that it throws my way are tough but by navigating them I am learning countless important and valuable lessons about the world, life, and, most of all, myself. I’m learning to laugh at those “classic Cuba” moments and much like the way that all the hair that came out when I was combing for lice has made room for new, stronger, and healthier hair to grow, the difficulty and pain of living in Cuba is setting the stage for me to emerge as an all-around improved person. And I can’t wait to meet her.

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Returning Home


View of Florence from the loggia at the Villa le Balze.

I remember the day I first arrived to the Villa le Balze. Even though I walked into a room of thirty then strangers and acquaintances, the setting made it hard to feel uncomfortable. The thick wood furniture, comfortable couches, book-lined walls and arched hallways create a homey atmosphere that immediately put me at ease. Despite the effects of these features, I could have never predicted how much the villa would actually feel like home.

Halfway though our semester, we got to experience a luxury that most Georgetown students go without: Fall Break. This break provides a much-needed respite after midterms and allows for time to travel throughout Europe. I spent my ten days in three Eastern European Countries stopping in Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, and Prague. I traveled with a group of new friends—all of whom I fostered relationships with while relaxing in the villa’s music room, conversing in the library, and playing Ping-Pong on the loggia overlooking Florence. It was an exhausting, exciting, and unforgettable ten days, but admittedly, I could not be happier to be back in Florence. Midway thorough our journey, after countless meals of schnitzel and spaetzle in Budapest and Vienna, we all came to the mutual realization that we missed pasta. Embarrassingly, by the time we arrived in Salzburg, we caved and ended up having dinner in an Italian restaurant.

After ten days of living out of a suitcase and taking multiple planes, trains, and buses, I found myself at a point where I was excited to return home. Not return home to my house in Virginia or to Georgetown, but return home to the Villa le Balze. Our journey made me realize how much the villa has become my home over these past two months. After de-boarding the train in Florence’s Santa Maria Novella station and getting a cab to the villa, I opened the door and was immediately comforted by the dim lights and arched hallway that comforted me when I first arrived in August. Although this time, I wasn’t walking into an unfamiliar place, I was returning home.

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Escape Into the Desert

Last weekend I was able to attend Georgetown’s Escape retreat for the second time, a privilege not many Hoyas have. Instead of escaping into the Appalachian foothills, we made our way to the desert sand dunes on the Persian Gulf coast. It was one of the best weekends I’ve had here.

I can’t explain what specifically goes on at Escape, a retreat rooted in Ignatian spirituality, but hopefully I’ll be able to portray the reason why it meant so much to me.

The ride out into the desert was wild, as we drifted across sand dunes at high speeds. I breathed a sigh of relief as we arrived at our site safely and set up camp. The rest of the evening consisted of singing songs we all know and love, eating s’mores (standard practice, even in Qatar) and getting to know one another. I was in a unique situation because although Escape is meant for freshmen, I am also new to Georgetown in Qatar. I was able to share similar experiences with freshmen while also interacting with the upperclassmen retreat leaders who are closer to my age.

As night approached, we figured it was easier to sleep outside, since the tents, having trapped the desert heat all day, were unbearably warm. But when everyone is getting along so well and the stars are out in full force, it’s a little difficult to sleep. I ended up staying up all night, talking to new friends I previously hadn’t gotten to know all that well in school and gazing up at the stars, which I hadn’t seen in weeks under the hazy Doha sky back home. At sunrise (below), some of us ran into the ocean for a morning swim. The retreat continued for the rest of the day, albeit among tired faces still recovering from the incredible night before.


A theme I’ve picked up on throughout my young life is the commonality of human emotions even across remarkably different circumstances. Some people shared stories that opened my eyes up to the human side of events I had only previously covered in the academic sense. I could never imagine having to leave my family to escape the war in Syria or suddenly leaving friends behind to flee political turmoil in Egypt. At the same time, the reason these stories were so powerful to me was that I could still relate to missing family and friends or sacrificing something due to events beyond my control. In this sense, I was able to form a bond with individuals who have entirely different backgrounds from me. Still, I returned from Escape with a newfound appreciation for my own privileges and opportunities.

As I’ve mentioned before, having class with people from all over the world has definitely enhanced my academic experience and expanded my worldview. But under the guidance of Jesuit philosophy and thought, Escape took it to another level. I can now say that I’ve closely and deeply interacted with individuals from an entirely different culture to rediscover that we are much more similar than different, a lesson that is much too valuable to disregard.

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