Spending a month abroad has not only opened my eyes to new perspectives and realities, but it has also helped shape the person I dream of becoming. That being said, I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to redefine my goals for the spring semester, similar to the way I did last fall.
If you didn’t know this already, I spent the month of January teaching computer science to Israeli and Palestinian high school students in Jerusalem and Nazareth. It was an incredible experience for me; if you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend checking out my team’s travel blog. What you probably didn’t know was that I had a one-day layover in Brussels, Belgium.
What was different about traveling in Brussels was that I wasn’t surrounded by my friends and coworkers like I was in Jerusalem. In Belgium, I was traveling solo in a foreign country with just my high school French to get me around. (I exaggerate—most people in the tourist areas spoke English anyway.)
I spent the morning walking to all the famous attractions like Mannekin Pis, Jeanneke Pis, and Zinneke Pis.
And after that, I decided to visit the Atomium, where I met someone that made this trip a ton more memorable. When I was in line to get my ticket, I met another college student visiting Brussels for the weekend. We ended up talking the entire time we were in the Atomium and continued to hang out the rest of the day. He was unlike anyone I have ever met (and probably would ever meet) at MIT, which made learning bits and pieces from his life story all the more enjoyable for me.
And this brings me to my first goal of the semester:
Invest time in people.
When we travel to new places, almost everyone sees the same monuments, the same museums. It is the people we meet and the unique experiences we share with them that differentiate all our trips. For me, I don’t think I’ll be able to think about Brussels without also thinking about what a great time I had making a new friend completely by chance.
Even though I probably won’t be traveling far from Boston this semester, there are obviously still people on and around campus. I did a pretty good job of making time to spend with friends last semester, and I want to continue doing so this spring. As an added bonus, I’d like to get to know more people outside my current friend group.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
While I was abroad, my stress levels were quite low, especially in comparison to what I’m used to when I’m on campus. Instead of worrying about my own classes, I was trying to keep my students in Jerusalem and Nazareth from stressing too much about assignments and exams. Some of the brightest students I worked with also happened to be the ones who worried the most. This semester, I’d like to take my own advice and realize that I can work hard at my classes without having dangerous levels of stress from worrying about the outcome.
Working with the year 1 computer science students was surprisingly difficult because I had to take a step back and explain concepts I take for granted like input variables and function return types. Fortunately, I got tips from my coworkers regarding how to explain certain concepts, which I then incorporated into my own explanations.
As a first-time TA this semester, I want to continue learning how to effectively communicate my ideas and explanations to students. I know it will be challenging, but I also know it will be worth it in the end.
Be willing to ditch your plans.
I had planned out my entire day in Brussels ahead of time, but when I made my new friend, I was willing to ditch my plans and just wing it. As a result, we stumbled upon the 7th Magritte Awards completely on accident.
I’m not advocating to forgo making any plans at all, but rather I think it’s important to be open-minded and flexible, which requires a willingness to deviate from what is planned.