I’ve been in Oman for nearly 9 months.
A lot can happen in in 9 months. Life can grow from a single cell to a laughing baby. A hopeful college graduate ventures out into to the real world, and gets a taste of his future.
For an exchange student, everything can change in 9 months.
I started this journey full of hopes, fear and millions of questions that sprung from every corner of my mind. I had come to a place that was nothing more than a blank page for me, with the shadows of preconceptions that I knew were probably far for the truth.
I had grown up around visions of the battle torn Iraq and Afghanistan, the vast desert of Saudi, and the mosaics of Morocco. I knew none of these places could even pretend to mimic the place I was headed. So I was left with a few pictures from Google Images, the words of the alums that had come here before me, and a couple emails, the only contact I had had from the family I was to become a part of.
Thinking back, I was incredibly mentally prepared. Now, there would be no way I could get up and leave. But of course, that’s not what I did. I had the entire summer to prepare, tell people the same speech over and over, and wrap my head around the fact that I would be embarking on something very difficult, but very rewarding.
I got here, and fell in love. But that’s not to say that it was easy. The first couple weeks, I couldn’t even read emails from my parents without crying. Everything was new, and different, and fascinating. I tried to absorb every little tidbit of information (which is impossible, by the way), and I was up for anything and everything. I even ate a mini octopus. (I can still remember the feeling of tentacles stuck between my teeth.) I think I said ‘sure’ more times than I could count.
When they give you the orientation beforehand, they show you this graph, depicting the course culture shock takes when studying abroad.
I have to say, I did not follow this AT ALL. I honestly cannot remember a single week that was so terrible that I hit rock bottom. I like to call it “culture irritation”- it fits better. For one, anything I didn’t understand about their culture, I would just ask. I always got an answer, and it was far more accurate than any explanation I could conjure up myself. I think one thing that definitely helped with that was that there was never any language barrier. My immediate family and all my friends speak English. I could always just ask.
-While this is very helpful for cultural exploration, it is extremely detrimental to language learning. While I have come a long way in my Arabic skills, I am not fluent. Most of the Arabic I have learned is from listening. To put it simply, why would someone speak to me in Arabic and have a substance-less conversation when they could speak to me in English, the language that both parties are proficient in?
Anytime I was feeling low, or homesick, or generally unwell, it was not because I was confused, or didn’t understand why something was happening.
I understand the motives behind most of my family’s actions. Sometimes I would just make me angry, or sad, or just frustrated.
For example, children here respect their parent’s words to the utmost. Most utterances are absolute, or at least to their faces. Talking back is not tolerated. There are no negotiations. Coming from a culture where parents are near equals, and children have no problem disagreeing with their parents, having to watch my siblings nod their head and walk away was frustrating. It was especially exasperating when it was something petty that could have been dealt with easily.
And so while I definitely understand this different form of parental respect, it still makes my blood boil sometimes. (It also makes me feel a bit rebellious, something new to me.)
This obedience only applies to most situations. There are definitely some exceptions… When a particularly strong-headed child wants something forbidden, most will take extreme measures to ensure that they get their way. When people ask if the girls here are oppressed, I laugh. Nothing gets in their way. While a rebellious child would rarely ever to openly fight with their parents, most would have no problem going behind their back.
Now, when I think of leaving, it terrifies me. There are so many unknowns: did I do everything right? Did I get the most of out this experience? Did I try hard enough?
And questions about home:
What will I do when I get home? Has it changed? Have I changed? How will be transition be? How can I even attempt to sum up my year in a few sentences? Can I explain to others what Oman is really like? Can I do justice to all the people I met, can I portray their portrait properly?
It’s enough to make your mind spin. I’m happy to see my family, of course. I can’t wait to see my friends. I want to fall in to my amazing bed, look up at the ceiling that I looked up at every night of my life before this. I want to look out my window and see green, not brown. I want to go outside and not die of heat.
But when I finally go home, what will I want then?
Will I miss my host family desperately, just like I missed my real family when I came to Oman? Will I miss smelling jasmines, freshly picked from the garden? Will I miss kissing everyone I see? Will I miss the sun that shines everyday? Will I miss the amazing mountains that stand majestically outside my window? Will I miss the lilt of Arabic? Will I miss the food, the spices, the meals? Will I miss my school, my house, the country I call my second home?
What if I realize that I did it all wrong?
It’s a frightening feeling.
From muscat with love,