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6,000+ Miles and What I Learned Along the Way

by Mireille Najjar

Not too long ago, I entered the doors as a Nutrition Communication student for the first time, unsure of what to expect. As I reflect on my journey to graduate school, I think about how time has progressed from my experience living in the Middle East and how it eventually led me to Boston and the Friedman School.

January 22, 2014—the day I received my official acceptance letter to the Nutrition Communication program at the Friedman School for Fall 2014.

I remember that day very well. It was a casual, warm day, just like any other day in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, my childhood home. As I sat in my room, my phone lit up—it was a notification from the Friedman School’s Office of Admissions. It was during this time that I was receiving most of my graduate school acceptance letters.

I opened the email, and I thought to myself, this could be it. This could be the chance for me to finally leave and explore the opportunities that I had been waiting for. These past four years of continuous hard work, and past several months of tiresome graduate school applications while waiting for my future to unfold, has led me to this very moment.

I finally opened the email, and I was in shock. I wasn’t really sure how to process the email. All I could replay over and over again was “…We are very happy to offer you admission into the Nutrition Communication program.” Everything else was a blur.

Boston always was my long-term goal. To me, it was a city that encapsulated so much of what I wanted to be, and who I wanted to become. I wanted to experience a new environment, outside of the Middle East, in a place that was home to some of my very own. I wanted to explore the history and charm of Boston and all that it offers.

Upon months of endless graduate school research and decision-making, I knew that Friedman was my number one graduate school choice. It offered the Master’s program that combined both of my interests—nutrition and writing—right in the heart of Boston. After living in the crowded streets of Beirut for four years, I had become a city girl, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to experience something new.

I said goodbye to my childhood bubble: goodbye to the comfort of home, memories, and solidarity. I said goodbye to a place that I never thought I could leave—a place that I believed I would hold onto for as long as I could. I spent the last 23 years as a “Third Culture Kid”* unsure of what reality really was—and if I would ever be able to take that last baby step and transition into the “real world.”

My time came, though. After one 13-hour plane ride, and seven time zones away, I finally arrived in Boston. It was the last week of August—a day after my birthday—and just a few days before school started. It was my first real move, my first real jump across the globe to a city that I had never been to before, but that I felt I knew so much about. A place that was so foreign, yet so tangible.

As hard as it was leaving, I knew that it was the right decision. My heart was aching for Boston, and it was the only place I wanted to continue to learn and grow from. It was the only place I wanted to settle in—and to push boundaries—in that moment, and for the upcoming years.

I didn’t realize at the time that these next two years would impact me in such a profound way, both personally and academically.

Many people throughout these past two years, both inside and outside of the classroom, have asked me, “So, where do you see yourself after graduation? Are you going to go back home?”

If you had asked me this two years ago, I would’ve said yes. I always thought that once I graduated—that was it. It would be the end of my academic journey. I would go back home, back to my bubble, carrying two years of precious memories I tried to hold onto, 6,000+ miles away.

But now, with graduation approaching, I stop and think about just how far I’ve come—and how far I want to keep on going. My heart is set on fulfilling my career goals, and I realize that two years just isn’t enough time. I crossed continents to fulfill my goals, my aspirations—and now, I feel the need to accomplish more.

Since day one, Friedman has taught me more than just textbook knowledge. The school indirectly pushed me to get out of my comfort zone and discover the endless options that will help me reach my goals. I’ve learned how capable I am and how ambitious I can be. I’ve been challenged and learned to overcome them. I want to continue to find my true passion, and I know that Friedman helped me this far—and the rest is up to me.

To all of my friends and the precious memories we’ve made—thank you for keeping me grounded, and for helping me feel a little less homesick every day. You all have made my experience in Boston so much more unforgettable, and I would not have been able to get through this if it weren’t for you all. Some of my favorite memories I’ll never forget were spent with you: the Friedman Ski Trip (aka the “Friedman Hotties”); our random get-togethers; our summer hangouts; and our long talks about the future, just to name a few.

Friedman, and my fellow NutCommers, I will sincerely miss you. I feel like I’ve become part of a community that I know will help me get one step closer to what I truly want. It’s been a constant whirlwind of deadlines, stress, and emotions, but I wouldn’t have changed any bit of it. I owe this experience to each and every person that I’ve come across, and that I’ve been inspired by, for helping me reach my full potential and encouraging me to simply take a chance.

From Dhahran, to Beirut, to Boston: what have I learned along the way? In essence, I’ve learned that sometimes you need to push and believe in yourself to really see what you can achieve.

They say you can never really grow if you’re “comfortable” in your place. I guess that’s something that keeps pulling me back—back to the comfort of living in familiarity, and knowing that I’ll always have home to keep me safe. I was born and raised in an expatriate community among thousands of individuals who came from all over the world. The friends I made became my second family, and now, most of them are scattered in different parts of the globe. This “sandbox” that I lived in preserved 18 years of memories and defining moments that shaped me, broke me, and in the end became one long, fulfilling learning experience.

Beirut was also another life-changing moment for me. Moving and adjusting to a congested city that was just as unfamiliar to me as it was to any other foreigner—I was in a culture shock. Although I spent every Christmas and summer vacation in the quiet villages of Lebanon, living there was entirely different. The educational system was much more rigorous. The student body itself had fewer international and Western students, a demographic that I had long been exposed to. The locals had their own mentality that sometimes collided with mine. The country itself is in a constant state of distress, which doesn’t seem to distract the locals and somehow adds to the uniqueness of Lebanon. I learned to adapt to the Lebanese way of life, while trying to not lose my sense of “self.”

Amidst sporadic moments of nostalgia and longing for home, I feel like for the first time in years, I truly feel content and myself, in an environment that is enriching and stimulating. Knowing that I have a strong support system both in Boston and back home is comforting, and subtly reminds me why I moved here in the first place.

*Note: A “Third Culture Kid” refers to a person who grew up or spent the majority of their childhood in a place outside of their parents’ culture.

Mireille Najjar will graduate this May with an MS in Nutrition Communication—and hopes to continue the path to become a registered dietitian.

The Friedman Sprout is a monthly student run newspaper that aims to serve the student population at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, prospective students, and alumni. Our mission is to report on newsworthy information that affects the Friedman community including nutrition research, food policy, internship and volunteer opportunities, as well as school events. Our editorial slant is that of sustainability in food and nutrition.

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