Samir graduated from the University of California, Riverside, with a degree in Political Science, International Affairs. He grew up almost completely certain of what he’s called to do, but all that changed after a study abroad experience back to his home country, Palestine. Just when he thought he had everything figured out, Covid-19 hit and his plans were thrown off once again. Right now, he has left the place of pity and is practicing gratitude while trying to find his way again.
How my lifelong plans changed in just a few months of study abroad
Being a first-generation Palestinian, I had always been motivated by his desire to understand more about his parents and their background. I wanted to learn more, especially from a political standpoint, about what is going on in Palestine. My dream was to use my experience and exposure to politics to connect with the folks there and help them in some way.
However, my dreams were “shattered” when I went on a college study abroad trip to Palestine. During the trip, I was able to gain a better understanding of how complex the many questions Palestinians face are, and I soon realized how powerless I am — as well as how naive I was. I do not mean to be pessimistic — but I recognized a tinge of arrogance in me as I — somebody who spoke in my native tongue with a broken accent — thought I was able to have a billion-dollar answer to the problems the Palestinians face.
From there, I saw the importance of recalibrating my perspective. Since I cannot go down to my homeland, I asked myself, “is there anything I can do back here at home?” Then it struck me that I have gotten really involved in politics including education advocacy. By the end of my time at college, I sought to carve out a path for myself and try to make a difference, either locally or in the state of California since after all, the most important changes you can make are the changes that are close to you.
I do want to point out that there is nothing wrong with having high-minded aspirations like going out to change the world. However, I do feel like my college experience was very grounding in the sense that it gave me a clearer and more realistic perspective of the kinds of things I can do given my circumstances.
With that, I was able to have an internship lined up with a local congressman.
Just when I thought I had I was on the right path to fulfilling my goals…
…my plans got derailed once again due to a situation that we are all familiar with: Covid-19. I initially thought I would be able to move to Washington, expand on my experiences, put myself out there, build a network and possibly land a full-time job there. Needless to say, my internship did not work out. The public sector is one of the hardest-hit industries, so it has been hard to find a job or move out. Instead, I am now at home, in my suburb just outside of Los Angeles, logging tons and tons of shifts at my family business.
There was so much self-doubt as I told myself, “wow. I got a degree, yet, I am working at a family business as a cashier, for minimum wage.” That self-doubt was also coupled with jealousy as I saw other college graduates landing jobs.
And that was when I had to pause and ask myself, “what am I doing right now to get to where I am?”
And that is where gratitude comes in. I thought to myself, “so many people are struggling even more than I am, and many others have lost their loved ones to this pandemic. My family and I have been safe for the past year or so, how is that not a blessing?”
That said, I don’t want to tell others that they should be grateful because things are doubtlessly tough. When it comes to gratitude and optimism, there needs to be a balance as I never want to impose toxic positivity upon someone.
Advice for people going through the same struggles during Covid-19?
Be more compassionate with yourself
I think that many of us in this world are so obsessed with hustle culture that we tend to fill ourselves with fear, stress, and anxiety. I firmly believe that there is going to be a moment in the future when we look back at this time and be grateful for the things that we did our best to accomplish despite the hard circumstances.
Right now, we have a choice of how to respond to unpleasant situations, and we have a choice of what to focus on — do we want to focus on the things that are out of our control, or do we want to focus on the controllable?
How we treat ourselves is also something that is within our control. I can look back at this time and wonder if I spent my time wisely. Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t, but that does not matter because I know I did my best. What I can control is how I spend my time in the future, not how I spent it in the past.