Swimming in a Foreign Sea: My 1st Week Anniversary in St Andrews (Hanan in Scotland)

Most people who seek adventures are those who yearn for something new. By seeking these adventures, they are seeking their soul. I thought I found my soul years ago but time and time again, I find myself at crosswords; barricaded by an overwhelming number of circumstances. With the insurmountable things that life throws at you, it’s almost impossible to secure it.

It’s liberating. To venture out into a world so unfamiliar to you. A place you’ve only tasted through film, felt through music, or even imagined through literature. Any place outside of Detroit for me was freedom. I was raised in a nurturing household but a not so nurturing town, to say the least. Stepping outside city limits was a statement of my self-determination. The need to break away from all that I knew. Whether it was the issues battling our Detroit community, my racial and ethnic groups, or challenges I battled in the world of academia and work; it is clear when a break is needed. And that’s what I did. I sought a new refreshing adventure.

I decided to spend 150 days learning and exploring a small university based city in Scotland, United Kingdom. The journey began when I first applied and was accepted at the dawn of fall semester. I had plenty of university options to choose from but before jumping to tourist magnets locations, I had a few conditions: the university ranking must be decent, the weather be moderate, country’s first language is English, and it also has a good transit system for travel. The University of St Andrews was the perfect option and I winged it.

Following my acceptance, I began to research and journal in all of my goals, needs, and aspirations prior to my travel there. I titled this section in my journal, “40 days to live.” A daunting name indeed, but a very real reminder of the end of my first life. It was a long and elaborate list, I tell ya- however, very worthwhile. During my longest ever winter break of 40 days, I spent it relaxing and attempting to stay productive with friends, family, and community. The productive part was difficult, I admit, but the experience was relaxing, a feeling I haven’t welcomed in my life for a very long time.

With the incomplete goodbyes and pending business, I bid my farewell to Detroit on January 20th and flew to Boston where I had a transit layover of 5 hours. That is when I had the most unexpected, yet remarkable encounter. Jackie and I are were destined to meet. Words cannot convey my deepest most heartfelt emotions about this wonderful woman. We met on the plane to Boston, her hometown, and I clicked with her immediately. She is one of the kindest, coolest, most open minded and socially conscious human beings I’ve ever met. She shared her wisdom about finances, health and nutrition, school, and life with me- a complete stranger. She began the conversations and I was safe in that space with her to share my personal and family story. When our enriching discussions came to a close and we were approaching Boston, she offered to show me around despite her busy schedule. She taught me about Boston, explored Harvard University together, bought me a Harvard souvenir, bought me lunch, and ALSO donated her extension cord to me. This woman is remarkable on so many levels and I wish every individual in this world can learn a bit of hope, love, and understanding from her, and I’ve learned to pay it forward. Did I mention she’s a mother of three, a mechanical engineer and graduated Tufts University? Jackie is extraordinary and inspiring.

Meeting her rejuvenated my soul and allowed me to recharge my energy for #hanansadventures from not only areas of travel and reflection but capturing and savoring opportunities for meeting new people. At that point, I was ecstatic as I began mapping my plans during the twelve hour layover transit in London. Having had only thirty minutes of sleep on the plan, it was a sign that my day in London would be fun, but draining. I spent the first hour adjusting to the new underground subway system then decided to go to the most central location there is. Contrary to what I thought, London was a much larger city with different parts encompassing its own story. I didn’t know where to begin and so I began to hop in and out of the undergound randomly to take walks and learn more. I took every opportunity that came by to familiarize myself with the great diversity and the ethnic communities that make up this city. In some ways, London was evidently not much different than an American metropolis: fast paced environments, busy streets, a tourist magnet, and endless discoveries. On the flip side, London was its own gem. The moment I walked on the streets of the inner city, I could not compare this feeling to anything else. I fully realized that this city has very deep, rich, and powerful thousands year old history. I believe that’s what London stand out to me the most. It wasn’t simply about taking a picture next to the infamous Big Ben, London Eye, or visiting some of the ancient castles- it was simply knowing that there were numerous stories behind these places to be old.

I was drained by the afternoon and decided to make my way back to the airport to rest a few hours before my evening flight to Glasgow. Those few hours in the airport felt like days in a hell where I was diagnosed with insomnia. My body refused to sleep despite its lack of energy. I was devastated but still willing to cope knowing I still had not one, but two trips until I reach my new home. After battling for a while, my mind finally allowed my body to rest for a few minutes until the announcement for a flight to Glasgow at 6:30 was heard. I swept through the crowds and made my way to the gate. The ride was a bit bumpy but I spaced out as soon as I had my seatbelt on. Upon arriving to the small airport, I was greeted by smiling faces and kind words by the Scottish. I made my way to the baggage area and after waiting more than a half an hour, registered for missing baggage. They alerted me that they had been lost on the way to Glasgow and that they will ship them to my dorm in St Andrews. Although I was upset, I knew that there was a reason behind everything. On the bright side, at least, I didn’t have to carry any baggage with me. I quickly left the premise and took a bus from Glasgow to the transport center to find a bus or a train to take me to the University. After asking the one of only two drivers left, one leaving to Edingburh and the other who’s completed their shift for the day, it seemed like they weren’t any other trips heading to that direction considering it was two hours away. At around 10 in the evening, I knew it was impossible to find anything safe and affordable. On my way to the street, I came by a few taxis. By accident, after speaking with a random older man about a ride to St Andrews, he agreed. The price was a fortune but I was in my most vulnerable state as a young Muslim woman so I had to be grateful and accept. On the way to St Andrews, the man and I had conversations about life, family and school. Maybe I was destined to meet kind and selfless people on my trip and he was one of them. I slept through the rest of the trip and after arriving, he made sure that I had everything I needed including food and groceries for the night which he bought me as well! Although I felt and looked like a corpse at that point, I was blessed to be safe and finally, home. arch

St Andrews is a one of a kind location. Words cannot convey the amount of surreal beauty this very small town has to offer. From the beaches to the old brick buildings and home from the University related corridors to the castles and museums-there is really nothing like it. The people here in Scotland are also their own breed. Generally, they are very kind and open to everyone. Almost everyone I walked by has smiled at me and has been graciously willing to help me with directions. They go out of their way to make sure you feel at home and comfortable. The porters at my hall are incredible examples. They are all as old as my father but knowing they are around to converse with, ask questions, seek help just makes me feel like I never really left home to begin with. After a few days of exploration and shopping, my luggage finally arrived and I was able to rightfully begin the new adventure here. I met an Egyptian sister from the American University of Cairo and realized I was also destined to meet her. We are alike in so many ways and share many interests. Who would have known that two girls from across the world would meet at this discreet location and become very good friends? Not any clue. After another few days, I began meeting lots of new friends, especially in the Muslim community, as everyone was returning to school again. It was delightful.

It is not unusual to feel foreign anymore: not in my southwest Detroit commuuninity, the University of Michigan, in my homeland of Yemen, and most certainly not at St Andrews either. I believe that so far in my life, St Andrews has been the one place I’ve adjusted so quickly to, and felt comfortable to live in. I have a rooted belief that people build a community. If you love a city or a place you’ve visited, it’s most likely because you’ve also grew fond of its people. I am here for the next four months and I am beyond excited about every new experience and moment to cherish and carry along with me. My new agenda for the journey is filled with travel, learning, reading, exploring, sports, and most importantly, growing. I hope to grow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I am now swimming in a foreign sea but I hope that with time, it becomes no longer foreign to me- it becomes home.

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