I arrived at the bus late, flustered and the feeling of unease was clearly written across my face. “I can’t talk right now, I have to do this!” I said as I stared at my phone while the friends I haven’t seen in a month try to ask me how my life is going. A few moments later I looked up in shock at how curt and dismissive I just acted. I apologized immediately and almost began crying at the sudden realization that my life had gotten far too hectic and that the peaceful, calm days of the summer intensive were gone. It seems a little paradoxical to have the words calm and intensive in the same sentence but that’s just what it was. Being surrounded by people I can be myself around, in a place where I don’t have to worry about homework, SATs or how long I can go without sleeping was complete and utter bliss. Sure, we dealt with some extremely powerful issues, but somehow I felt at peace knowing that everyone around me was there because they want to change the world for the better.
“This is your weekend,” I told myself. When I’m 40 years old I won’t remember the one weekend I stressed about all the work I needed to do because let’s face it, that’s every weekend for me. I will, however, remember the weekend I focused on issues in my community and had an amazing time free of worries with some of my closest friends. Once I let the pressures of my personal life slip from my mind I began to smile and turn my attention to the even more daunting issues that are prominent in my community such as the portrayal of women in society, racial stereotypes, LGBTQ issues and the various splits between people that are often times ignored. These topics seem were definitely difficult to talk about because of all the emotion that accompanies each of them. For me, the challenging aspect of the discussions is realizing that even though I want to change these problems in my community, I don’t truly know the solution and even if I did, it would not be an easy fix. The conversation, however, came as easy as can be. Speaking in an environment where people value what I have to say and attempt to understand my point of view is what helped me to be comfortable talking and sharing my own thoughts. Countless times throughout the weekend there were groans when Deme and Ali, the program staff, stopped the conversation for obviously unimportant reasons like food or breaks. I, along with many of the other girls, didn’t want to stop talking. Maybe I don’t know how to solve the issue of how women are portrayed in society, but I can honestly say that after talking about it with the other girls and hearing their thoughts, I feel one step closer to figuring out a way.
The issues we discussed during the weekend were surely impactful on my thinking of how to better my community, but this was not the only part of the weekend that was important to me. Getting to know the other U.S. participants better and establishing a true sense of friendship between each one of them was absolutely wonderful. During the summer intensive I only really got to know 3 or 4 U.S. girls because of the groups we were put in and who I clicked with from the beginning. Throughout the weekend, however, I got to know each girl that was there and developed a friendship with them. This weekend was one of the few times in my life where I was completely myself with no pressure to say the right thing, wear the right clothes or act in a certain way. I felt safe. I went from barely knowing some of the girls to missing them so much right now as I write this a week later. It was nice to break out of the small group of girls that I know really well and learn about the lives of the other participants.
Lastly, there was one part about the weekend that was particularly challenging for me. This was the disappointment I had in myself. How could I let my life get so busy and stressful that I didn’t even apply the things I learned over the summer? How could I sit back and watch as the issues in society continue to have damaging effects? I was extremely upset with myself. In the past 4 months I had only been concerned with personal issues like how many activities I can be involved in to put on my college application and what I could do for my brother so that I wouldn’t have to rake the leaves. I wasn’t making a conscious effort to think about the issues and try to make even the slightest of changes. The racial splits within my school are very prevalent and instead of doing things to understand and help mend this problem, I was ignoring it altogether. The dissatisfaction I felt for my efforts is not something that I want to feel again. Therefore, when Deme asked me what goal I had for myself to go back into my community, I knew that it was awareness and application. This is a pretty hefty goal, but I know that if I truly focus a little less on my own crazy life and a little bit more on issues in my community, I can actually make a difference, even if I don’t completely solve the issue of women’s portrayal in society. I got off the bus with a smile on my face, ready to start the hours of homework awaiting me.