By Mouna Algahaithi, Senegal ’14, Madison College
I walked through Chinatown slowly, wondering why I had decided to enroll in Kung Fu classes to begin with. The familiar knots of change and doubt twisted in my stomach as I followed the map on my phone, heading into downtown Oakland, down streets I had never walked on before, painted with Chinese characters, beautiful murals, and criss-crossed sidewalks.
After my Global Citizen Year, I told myself that there isn’t anything I can’t accomplish if I set my mind to it. If I could survive a year in a foreign country away from my loved ones, become nearly fluent in a language I had never heard of prior to my departure, and leave feeling like a strong part of the community that generously hosted me, what couldn’t I accomplish if I pushed past the fear of failing?
Still, every time I decide to try something new, those familiar knots clench inside of me and I soothe myself, saying: “You don’t have to do this, Mouna…”, but I do. Growth means constantly stepping out of your comfort zone into a stretch zone, an area where you are challenged but excited, nervous yet ready. With these varying emotions, I stepped into the US Shaolin Kung Fu doors three weeks ago and this is what I learned:
Kung fu is a constant challenge. You wobbly walk through the door, excited to learn a new form or kick, only to find your knees shaking or fall flat on your butt when you first try. But each time you get back up, each time you practice the stance or the move, you improve, you become stronger, more confident, and more passionate about continuing to grow. But without the belief in yourself, without pushing yourself to stand back up, without the support of my fellow classmates and compassionate instructor, I would stay on the ground, with sore abs and aching legs.
The same thing could be applied to my bridge year. I headed to Senegal with the narrow idea of thinking I was going to make some sort of change in my host community, excited and brimming with ideas. When arriving in Mboro, I was met with a resilient and hospitable town of loving people, bright colors, and large families that didn’t need me nor necessarily want me. No matter how tall I tried to stand, no matter how strong I thought I was, I fell to the ground over and over again, from my inability to communicate my needs to the barrier of not understanding the culture I was entering. But each time I stood back up, whether it was by the help of a fellow peer or mentor, my host siblings, or my Senegalese friends, my strength grew, and I was able to stand for much longer periods of time. I slowly attained the confidence that I needed to continue to get back up, to try new things, and to put myself out there… because without the risk of those new, scary, and exciting moments, there’s no room for challenge and growth.
So when people ask me why I decided to start to kung fu, I can’t help but to smile and think why not? And upon reflection, I know that it’s because of the mindset and skills that I developed during my bridge year nearly three years ago that still have these positive impacts and motivations for me today, and push me to constantly seek my stretch zone.
(Also kung fu is awesome and everyone should do it. Same with bridge years. The world is yours… Go forth and conquer!)