The following post was written by Bridge Year Fellow Farah Heikal.
I am currently surrounded by heaps and piles of things I need to pack. I would be lying if I said that this hasn’t been my situation for the past three days. You see, if I had a list of the things that I absolutely dread doing, it would look a lot like this: (1) packing; (2) unpacking; (3…∞) merely existing rather than living. I have never had the desire to do either one of these. Packing seems to fill me with worry. I worry I won’t be prepared, I won’t have appropriate clothing, or I worry I’ll forget something. The entire process brings about an overwhelming fear of being unprepared, as well as a tendency to overpack.
I often think of packing and unpacking as metaphors for life—while packing brings a fear of unpreparedness, unpacking means finality. Just when I had finished unpacking my bag after the Global Gap Year Summer Institute, I was immediately faced with the reality and apprehension of soon embarking on this journey. This is when suddenly, the weight of responsibility became that much heavier; I was no longer theoretically speaking of my plans to take a Bridge Year. I was actually doing this—with my flight booked and everything. At that very moment, I was struck by the anxiety of being presented with challenges I had never faced before, the hope that I had found the right fit, and if I hadn’t, what consequences awaited me.
Since then, I have embraced every trace of uncertainty that comes my way. Just as my suitcase is uncertain of what it is about to be filled with, I am unsure of what challenges lie ahead in these next nine months. Like a child learning his or her ABC’s for the first time, I am afraid just as much as I am eager to jump faster and faster into what may as well become the foundation for the rest of my life. It is refreshing to feel so uprooted in a way that I have never felt before.
Just as my lopsided suitcase has been molded by the many places it has been to and the experiences it has had, the time I have spent at UNC has similarly shaped me. At times, campus culture left me stuck in limbo—was I busy enough? And if I was, was it “resumé-worthy”? Somewhere along my two years at Carolina, I lost my intention. I lost my eagerness to learn and my ability to be excited about the fruitful opportunities surrounding me. Somehow, my personal passions and needs became second-class citizens to the trivial demands of an American college education. What was there to look forward to if all that awaited me were more five-year plans, more Connect Carolina spreadsheets of graduation requirements, and countless GPA reminders? I had ascribed my entire identity and purpose to arbitrary words and behaviors that had no grounding. But, like a used suitcase that seldom becomes useless, I was able to move forward despite the baggage of the past.
Everything clicked when I first heard that I had been selected as a Bridge Year Fellow. It was an opportunity to follow my curiosities with the freedom to pursue whatever it is I found interesting—without the need for anything more. During my Bridge Year, I will be able to strengthen my connection with my culture, language and people, while simultaneously empowering myself. Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican historian once said that “…a person without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture, is like a tree without roots”; I vow to trace my roots down to the very last inch. Although it was a difficult decision to deviate from my four-year graduation plan, it is necessary if I want to return to Carolina for my junior year as a re-energized and focused version of myself.
While abroad, I will pursue whatever it is that makes my soul sing. I will do whatever I so desire, without the pressures that have been so deeply embedded in me. Like my father has been telling me throughout this packing process— “What you can’t fit in your suitcase, you should just leave behind!” And that, I will certainly do.