Friday, 8 April, 2016
My alarm went off at 10 am. I still can’t believe I’m actually at the US, all alone. It felt weird and exciting, all at once. After the extremely long day I went through yesterday, as elaborated in my previous blog post, I decided not to wake up for breakfast at the hotel and eat anywhere else because I needed some sleep.
I got dressed and went down to the lobby to ask about a nearby diner and arrange for a ride to Southern Connecticut State University, where the conference would be held. The desk clerk, Christopher, was very helpful and said that the hotel’s driver can take me to the university, which is supposedly like 15 minutes away, at 11:30 am. He then directed me to a nearby restaurant just around the corner. I went in and people looked at me for a while, as I was the only veiled girl in the place, then everyone went back to what they were doing. I sat at the counter and ordered some Italian omelette with a side of potatoes, minus the bacon of course. The waiter was very friendly and served me with a smile, which soothed my tension a great deal.
I went back to the hotel and took the hotel shuttle to the university. The driver got a bit lost but we finally arrived. It was time. I entered the university with no hassle at all and people directed me to where the conference was held. I went to the reception desk where I had to register. It took them some time to find my name. I was then given the name tag, welcome bag, and the schedule for the conference. I was so excited to be a part of this. Proud as hell as well. There was also several kinds of cookies and knickknacks on the table, yum. The sessions were today were to run from 12 pm to 5 pm. The weather was chilly in a good way, not too cold. The sky was clear. Their campus is huge. But my American University in Cairo is much more beautiful and authentic 😉
Despite what I expected, I was feeling proud that I was the only international student there, and only veiled girl. Oh wait, there was one at the reception desk, but I did not get a chance to talk with her. The conference ran as a series of concurrent sessions. The sessions were quite informative. They were lots of interesting professors and professionals who were keen on benefiting the students and delivering worthwhile information. I wanted to take all the details in, to benefit from every word I heard. I took notes and did my best to ask meaningful questions.
There was a session about student journalism and how it’s perceived. During this session, I had the guts to tell them about AUC Times and the incident with our issue about sexuality and how the university students perceived it. I told them about our fight and how we persisted in the face of disdain and criticism from society. They applauded my efforts and advised me to keep going. As for the controversial issue with AUC Times, review this link here and here, in addition to this video to know the whole story.
As incredibly interesting as the sessions were, the day went by with me going from session to session but I did not really make any acquaintances (yet). I couldn’t wait till the awards ceremony tomorrow!
Before I leave the university, I had to take a selfie to commemorate the unique moment.
I called the hotel to send me the shuttle bus to pick me up. The woman who picked up was the first clerk I met while checking in, whom I cannot recall her name. To remember my incident with her, check my previous blog post about my trip.
I went back to the hotel to put my stuff then, it was time for lunch. I was starving. I asked the reception about nearby restaurants, ones that were a walking distance. She recommended several ones, one of which was Italian. When my mouth started to water in hunger, I decided that this was the one I was going to head to.
Connecticut is such a quiet state, at least the area I was staying at. It was not like the busy, metropolitan America we saw at the movies. It was more suburban and local. The typical two-story houses with the mail boxes and all. No sight of international brands or well-known retail stores. I enjoyed taking a walk down the streets of the city. This is really happening. I, Shaza Walid, at the United States of America, solo. Even though I so wanted to explore the city, I tried to avoid taking many detours so I don’t get lost on my way back. Before travelling, I did some research about the state and the interesting places to go, and I found a bunch of museums and sightseeing places. Unfortunately, the conference finishes late on the two days and most of these places close at 4 pm. I wish I had more time to explore the city.
I arrived at the Italian restaurant after about about 20 minutes of walking. Fortunately, it wasn’t crowded. The waitress welcomed with a smile and directed me to my table. I was having lunch solo in a foreign city. How grand! I ordered a mushroom ravioli, which comes with a side of green salad with vinaigrette dressing, in addition to a cup of apple juice.
There was free wifi at the restaurant, so I sent mom some photos of my lunch and assured her that I was doing great. For a moment, I marveled at how means of communications have advanced to the extent that two people can share the same moment, even if they’re thousands of miles apart.
I took the rest of my lunch as takeaway and started walking back to the hotel. The thing about Connecticut is that it can quiet at night, which is not the safest thing, especially for a veiled, girl strolling down the streets of the state. On this whole trip, my motto was, “better safe than sorry” and it was so spot-on. Because think about it, if anything happened to me, whether I lost my money or my phone was stolen, for instance, no one would be able to reach me. I was alone in a big city. I know no one and no one knew me. That was thrilling and frightening at the same time. I loved the feeling of independence and freedom, but these come with a price. So that’s why I was extra careful.
As the sun set, I decided to head back to the hotel. The city was getting quieter. When I arrived at the hotel, I found an email from my professor checking on me and making sure everything went well. How sweet of her! She gave me the idea of live tweeting the event and using their hashtag, which I thought was a great idea. She’s truly amazing.
On a side note, one of the other cautionary measures I took was not allowing room service at my room. I was only staying for three nights, so there was no need for someone to get into my room and go over my stuff, especially with the hotel staff seeing that I’m here alone. You might think this is me being a bit paranoid, but cautious is better than reckless.
I spend the last couple of hours of the day chilling at my room. I turned on the TV to watch some local channels. I had plenty of knickknacks with me, cookies, biscuits, juices, and others. Tomorrow is the big day, the awards ceremony. Can’t wait.
Wanna know what this next obviously remarkable day entails? Stay tuned for my next blog post.
– All images are hyperlinked to their original sources unless otherwise stated.