Mentoring this year has been an interesting experience. Our mentees were allowed to choose their mentors, so I was honestly surprised when five new GEFs chose me to mentor them, mainly because they were made aware in my bio that I would be abroad in Australia during their first semester at OU. I was super excited to have them though, and I spent the first part of my shortened summer emailing them some basic info about the program and myself and OU, and then exchanging more individual emails with two of them as they were trying to plan ahead for their trips abroad. That was the best part for me, getting to talk with my new mentees. I did two mentoring programs the year before, and among nearly twenty total mentees I had, almost none of them ever contacted me or responded to any of my emails or other attempts to interact with them.
However, as seems to happen with the mentoring programs I’ve done, I largely lost contact with them after the semester started. I can’t say I blame them, I know when I was a freshman I preferred figuring things out for myself, but I liked being a resource whenever they would let me. I got to help one mentee start her search for a study abroad program that was a good fit and another decide whether to stay with the program, as he was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to meet all the requirements while keeping up with his classes and graduating on time. Even if I never hear from those freshmen again it’s cool to have been able to help a little bit with their first year of college.
Returning to the US after being abroad for several months was an odd experience. To make it even stranger, I woke up sick the morning of my flight back to the US, and after a full day of flying and airports with an eye infection and a nasty cold, I spent the first week I was home holed up recovering. By the time I got back out into the “real world,” it had already started to feel like the entire “Australia experience” had been some hazy fever dream. It still amazes me how distance from a place can make experiences there seem surreal, especially when you’re also removed from the people you shared those experiences with. The only person in the US who was in Australia with me was Tasha, another OU student who stayed at the same apartment complex as me during our semester there. I meet her occasionally now for lunch so we can reminisce together and feel a little less alone and distant from all those experiences, because spending half a year abroad like that leaves a lot of memories that are really worth remembering and revisiting, but it’s hard to do that without someone else to share the memories with. That may be the hardest part of coming back, you’re left with all these incredible experiences and memories, but few if any people to share them with. No matter how well you can tell the stories to your friends or parents back home, they’ll never really know what it was like. It’s like telling a joke out of context, the distance just makes it lose something in translation, and I really struggled with that my first few weeks back. Even now, six months later, it feels even more like Australia was just a dream. It seems like time just skipped, I missed OU in the fall, a full semester of classes – this entire semester I referred to last spring as “last semester,” as though fall never happened. I fell right back in with my friends, which was great, but it also made that semester abroad seem even more surreal. How could I see and do and learn so much, then come back and find everything almost exactly as I left it? I’m completely adjusted to being home by now – I have been for months – but every once in a while the strangeness of the whole situation still stirs in the back of my mind. I’m sure as time passes that will happen less and less, but it makes me sad that all those memories are fading so fast, and will likely continue to do so. Hopefully I can go back someday and refresh some of them.
In the days following the election, I felt like I was watching some kind of crazy TV drama every time I checked the news or walked across campus. I heard about elementary school kids telling their Hispanic, Latinx, and Middle Eastern classmates horrible things, I saw videos of people getting beaten in the streets over who they voted for, I watched protesters take to the streets bearing signs that were aggressive, personal attacks against Melania Trump and others who really had nothing to do with the election or why these people were angry. I saw so much hate and fear that it really started to affect me in a way that I didn’t expect. I was among those who were scared by our country’s choice of a leader. I fear for myself and for those I care about who fall into the groups whose rights our president elect has threatened. But honestly, I’m more scared of the people walking down the street than I am of any upcoming legislation. I’m scared of the person who would rip a hijab off of a woman’s head in a grocery store and tell her to hang herself with it. I’m scared of the parents who teach their children that it’s okay to tell their classmates that Trump will send them back to Mexico. I’m scared of anyone who would physically attack others over a difference in political opinions.
I’ve seen so many people take their fear and anger and use it to justify treating others in horrible ways. It’s a mistake that humanity has made again and again throughout history, and it has never ended well. I get why people are scared, some fear the loss of their rights, others fear the current economic conditions, and others simply fear the uncertainty of the current state of the world. But none of this justifies treating others as less than human. These displays of hatred scare me more than anything else right now – more than the economy, the loss of my rights, or the state of the world. They encourage the same fear and hatred in others; they generate a cycle of choices and behaviors that will not fix anything. It won’t fix any of the sources of fear, and it won’t make the world a better place. It only hurts people.
I know there is a lot more behind these events and in peoples’ lives than what I’ve talked about here, but this is what I’ve seen around me over the course of the last couple weeks. I’m only aiming to understand and express my own feelings about these events.