It was December of 2009. College application deadlines were approaching and, just like any other high school senior, I was entirely occupied with completing my essays and submitting them in on time.
I applied to a number of schools, all varying in prestige and distance from home. By the time the first of January dawned upon me, my college applications were signed, sealed and delivered with certain expectations and a rudimentary idea of where I would actually enroll in the fall. I spent almost my entire life in Chicago — it was where my fondest memories were treasured.
This intimate attachment, with an assertive influence of its own, thus decided that, despite potential acceptances into various schools, I would enroll at a university close to home. Sometimes, however, effort and time invested in arranging and planning the future are not reflected in the outcome. It’s a strange phenomenon: you can sit and ponder, illustrate diagrams, formulate equations, schedule and reschedule, and focus until your mind aches, but you still aren’t in control of the results. You cannot direct fate. You plan meticulously and achieve what you believe is your final answer.And then God plans.
As soon as admission results were released, I realized I had to tweak my mindset. Without really allowing some schools a chance, without exploring their campuses, observing student life and evaluating the vibes I received in return, I would be oppressing myself through limitation. Lifting this confining curtain only opened another window: I realized instantly upon arriving at Yale that, subhanAllah, it was my scene. I envisioned myself reveling in the beauty of its gardens and exploring its glorious libraries, and most importantly, living comfortably and confidently in this “home away from home.”
My answer to their office of admissions was therefore ‘yes,’ a million times over.The moment when my ‘yes’ was transformed into a reality soon arrived. I had overlooked its simplicity. Was I ready to leave my life, family, and friends back home? This wasn’t equivalent to initiating a new chapter of life; it was like writing a new novel. Living away from home was unfathomable. But that was exactly what I signed up for—and I did not in the least bit know what to expect.
As the summer crept to a close, move-in day received me with open arms. All the incoming college freshmen seemed exhilarated to finally break off from home—all freshmen but myself. My father and I climbed the dormitory stairs until we reached my suite, where the unpacking and the assembly of my room—and my new beginning—commenced.
After settling in, my dad hinted that it was time for him to depart. I remember not of what my outward reaction was, but my inner emotions at that moment remain forever etched in my memory. A wave of resistance washed over me and I began to choke, for I knew his last kiss marked the beginning of four years of desolation. Tears streamed down my face as my head was numbed with despondency. I sat on my new, crispy, unwelcoming bed, as I heard the faint sounds of folks yelling out in the courtyard. It was the first time that I truly felt alone.
Looking back on this memory now, I wallow in regret because I failed to look past the confinement I placed upon myself. I wasn’t incarcerated by default; I forced the shackles of constriction on my outlook. I wanted nothing to do with this foreign environment. But I couldn’t harbor this bitterness forever. Eid rolled by soon enough and I flew home for what would account as my first visit home. It was then that I understood that although it was rejuvenating and lovely, it wasn’t completely ‘home.’ Home had a new dimension to it—and that dimension thriveback in New Haven. I knew it then, and I know it now. Leaving home gifted me with an entirely unique, invaluable, prog`ressive perspective that allowed me to appreciate my family, friends, religion, education and community on an entirely new level. I learned about issues I otherwise would have remained oblivious to and interacted with distinctive individuals on a scale nonexistent to me beforehand.
Yale allowed me to rediscover and celebrate my individuality. I had originally planned that I was going to remain in Chicago and asserted I wouldn’t move an inch away. Plans change and people change. I stand corrected today, and proudly proclaim that I surely wouldn’t have it any other way.
Aala Mohamed is sophomore at Yale University