note to self

Miriam Abel - Senegal


August 15, 2018

Dear Miri, 

 

Before you lift up your suitcase and check into the plane that will carry you to Senegal, remember these words from a person you can learn a lot from – yourself:

 

1.    Bring yourself back to the time when Senegal sounded so unrealistic and distant to you that you found it hard to express your thoughts about it. Remember the excitement that ran through your veins paired with a never-felt-before anxiety about this decision that you made for yourself. Compare this rollercoaster of emotions to how you feel after living in Senegal for a while. Then, you will know you did the right thing.  

 

2.    Feeling anxious about moving to another country for 8 months without any language skills or social contacts there yet, is understandable. Accept that you are scared about such a big step in your life. In fact, if you are scared, it means something to you. So, your anxiety proves that your bravery will pay off in the long run. 

 

3.    However, listen to the butterflies in your stomach and the tingling sensation in your heart when you think about Senegal. How different it will be to your own background and society. How many foreign faces will be transformed into friends and family members. How the music already touches your heart, so imagine how you will feel when you get a chance to actually play it together with others. Life has beautiful memories in store for you so embrace them with open arms. 

 

4.    Remember the so-called cultural lenses you are wearing. What you may consider as wrong or inappropriate, may look completely different through Senegal’s or your host family’s cultural lenses. The challenge for you in your 8 months is to come away from your cultural lenses and seek to understand the other person’s. 

5.    From time to time, try the “like me” exercise. When you meet someone foreign, remember that he/she/they is/are just like you in many perspectives: The person wants to be loved, craves midnight snacks sometimes, cares about their family, has dreams and ambitions, and, most importantly, is also just a human being with flaws and mistakes. Suddenly, strangers do not feel so strange at all anymore. 

6.    See foreignness with curiosity instead of strangeness.

7.    From time to time, try the “like me” exercise. When you meet someone foreign, remember that he/she/they is/are just like you in many perspectives: The person wants to be loved, craves midnight snacks sometimes, cares about their family, has dreams and ambitions, and, most importantly, is also just a human being with flaws and mistakes. Suddenly, strangers do not feel so strange at all anymore. 

8.    You are not who you think you are. You are not who they think you are. You are what you think they think you are.

 

9.    Embrace being out of your comfort zone. The knowledge you can obtain from yourself when being pushed to your personal boundaries is a tremendous gift. As Vincent van Gogh said: 

“Normality is a paved road: it is comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow.” 

 

10.  Grow and blossom in Senegal and beyond. 

Miriam Abel