I remember it well: It was cloudy day back in Saudi Arabia and I was walking along the beach with my parents. We were having our usual random conversations, talking about the weather, religion, history, politics and whatever else came to mind. I think this time we were talking about Middlebury College (a college which, if you know me, you would realize I’m obsessed with), when the thought of attending a boarding school occurred to me. It was a new idea, something new to my household, but it appealed to me for some reason. I’m not sure however, that my father felt the same. Nevertheless, I started my attempts to persuade him. Admittedly, I can be quite stubborn. The first step is always the hardest, but that day, on the beach, I began.
Basically a lot of stuff happened between then and now. Making my decision to apply to UWC wasn’t really much of a fairy tale story in my case – at least not compared to the stories of some of the other students at this school. I didn’t just know that I had to attend UWC from the start and the Idea of attending didn’t just pop into my head like a genius’ moment of realization. My searching process lasted two years, but eventually I found this movement -that was recommended by a family friend- and by year 11 I was inspired enough to send my first email to the UWC Gulf Countries National Committee requesting their application forms. No one believed I would get invited for an interview and no one at all ever seriously thought I would actually attend the school if I did get accepted.
I remember filling out my forms in my grandmother’s living room. I was freaking out about the essay questions. I would run to my dad, or whoever else was in the room, to ask for advice. Basically, I asked them to reword everything I had written in the 30 seconds since I had last requested help. My cousin, who sat beside me as I typed, jokingly warned me not to leave the country before her. I did.
I was happy to apply: It felt like a one in a lifetime chance for a high school education abroad. So I gave it my all. I didn’t even know if it was what I wanted or if it was even the best option for me. But it was now or never, and I went for it.
By January the next year I had been invited to the National Committee’s final selection program in Dubai. I was quite confused, but determined to push for permission and to get accepted. As the reality of the possibility of my departure grew, so did my parents’ concerns and as people outside the household became aware of my hopes, things became a bit more complex. In my absence, I became a common topic of conversations, and opinions on why I shouldn’t leave a year early flowed in like a storm. The family slowly but surely constructed itself into sides and opinions. It hurt me when people I cared about talked to my parents about not sending me off. I hated to think that anyone was convincing my parents, who were so unsure, to deny me what I was working so hard for. I didn’t understand how people who loved me could so causally speak against a goal which had morphed into a battle in my head – a battle I was losing.
I think the problem was that there wasn’t enough context and my father still needed convincing on why UWC was worth leaving home, so I decided to show him. Mid-February, my dad and I departed for Norway, and the next day we found ourselves on the UWC Red Cross Nordic Campus. He chatted with senior management and I talked to students. At first he wasn’t impressed because of a few delays and miscommunications. I don’t know what he discussed while I was meeting people at the canteen and he wouldn’t admit anything afterwards, but he was impressed, I knew it, and since then his opinions started to change. It was an exhausting trip, but I’m happy we went. Even for myself, the school was very impressive and I think we both needed it.
Fast forward to the end of March, after being informed of my acceptance into UWC, my dad came to tell me about a story he had just heard. A story about his father. At the age of six, my grandfather lost a loved one, and fell into great illness. According to the doctor, the only cure was leaving the country and distancing himself from the city (Mecca) that reminded him so greatly of his loved one. My grandfather’s mother was reluctant to send her child off, and refused, but my grandfather, a six year old child, simply asked her: Why are you standing in my way? I want to go, it’s what’s best for me, so let me leave. My father, by pure ‘coincidence’ heard that story a day before I got accepted into UWC, and felt moved to the point where he let me go. The next day he brought me a list he had agreed on with my mother of UWC schools I would be allowed to attend, and fortunately, Atlantic College was on that list.
Over-thrilled, I jumped around the house like a madman. I was in. My part was done!
People won’t always accept what you do. My grandmother, out of love, would question me and my parents’ judgement to send me off every week since, but she knows I’m happy now, and that’s all she really wanted to begin with. My relatives and friends had a different approach, and I was called selfish and inconsiderate several times for leaving my family a year early. No one agreed with the step I was taking, but many respected my freedom to take it. I would often receive apprehensive questions beginning with ‘are you sure’ and ending with a concerned head tilt. Even distant relatives would come up to me and ask why I was leaving. I became a somewhat form of news, and until today, people tell me that I shouldn’t have left, but it doesn’t matter. People in the Arab World care about each other, and you should never take it personally or impolitely. That’s how it works, a political game of goodwill that we all have to play.
I’m greatly grateful for this process. The struggles I overcame had me work for what I wanted, making me appreciate my success all the more, whilst I became evermore understanding of why I fought for what I did. My parents were not outside forces standing against me, they were the insight and consideration I needed to properly think everything through. They wanted what was best for me and at times I couldn’t see that, and for that I am sorry.
As I’ve sat here in front of my screen for hours, trying to articulate my emotions without any misrepresentation; I hope to portray this story as one of compassion and never one of anger or grudge. We all make decisions in life, and the concerned opinions of those who care about you should never be resented.