Let Your Heart Be Broken Open:
Reflections From A Year Of Studying Abroad In The US
When I think back to the months leading up to my departure from Lagos, Nigeria, two moments stand out. First, I recall the mixed feelings of excitement and anxiety that preoccupied my mind as I hugged my parents to say goodbye. Maybe more importantly though, I remember in vivid detail the arrival of my acceptance letter that thanked me for sharing my story with Hope College. Now, with a year of amazing experiences behind me, I can say that Hope College is a part of my story and that the wonderful people I’ve met here, have helped to mold my life in ways I could never have anticipated.
The list is endless. From Professor Myers who ignited this incredible experience at Hope College and provides me career guidance to Barbara Miller who helped me navigate the Hope College admission process and Visa applications. From the individuals who make the Phelps Scholars program possible to the Summer Tour guide team at the Admissions Office. From Professor Green to Campus Ministries. From President Scogin to the workers who make our meals at Phelps dining. From Campus Safety to the gracious donors who make my education possible. From Hannah Santiago to Kate Hutchinson. From Beth Snyder to Makenna Mugambi and Abi Nasari. From my compassionate and wonderful host family (Paul and Alyssa) to my many other dear friends. All these individuals and the many more for whom space will not allow me to list, have played a part in helping me make Hope a Home. These individuals have over the last one year, extended hands of service that I could never have imagined possible. Through countless conversations and experiences, they have held me steadily as I worked to transform unknown experiences into fond memories. Ultimately though, they have provided me with important life lessons, and it is four of these that I hope to highlight here. These are lessons that I cherish greatly and promise to hold close to my heart as I work to be of greater service to others.
Lesson 1: Wait For It
It is no coincidence that my first lesson shares the same title with one of Hamilton, The Musical’s songs. Playwright and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the song titled Wait For It while taking the subway to a friend’s party. It’s a song about patience, personal responsibility and the place of fate. Maybe more importantly though, it’s a song about Aaron Burr and while singing, Burr makes a case for caution as an ideal, especially in light of the privileges he has been fortunate to receive. For me, this is where a strong connection arises. Burr’s idea that the very fact of being alive comes not from merit, but rather from grace is essential. As he so skillfully puts it, “Death doesn't discriminate between the sinners and the saints. It takes and it takes and it takes”. In another verse, Burr reminds us that “If there's a reason I'm still alive when so many have died, then I’m willing to wait for it”. These lines resonate strongly with me, especially as I reflect on the many ways in which I am privileged. For one, the opportunity to go to college in the US is a blessing that I do not take for granted. Not only do I have access to a world class education, but I also have a support system to guide me as I learn how to create a better world. Consequently, it is from amongst these privileges, that I realize the obligation I now have to make a positive global contribution.
Lesson 2: In the spirit of Community
Over the last one year, the importance of having a strong support system has been impressed upon me several times. From taco dinners to Target and Wal-Mart runs. From job recommendations to finding suitable winter coats. From summer housing to forming lifelong connections. All these instances have only been made possible by the amazing community that I have been fortunate to meet at Hope College. One knows that the challenge of moving to a new country is huge and that successfully navigating that path requires empathetic people. This support system is made up of individuals who I have run towards during both moments of immense joy and tragic pain. This is especially true on the occasions when time zone differences prevent me from instantly reaching my family.
In all, I’ve learned to cherish every moment I get to spend with these amazing people. I understand that our time together will not be endless, but with this comes the assurance that I will have these fond memories to keep with me. I shall also carry with me the sense of kindness and generosity that has been extended to me and I plan to work tirelessly to extend such benevolence to others.
Lesson 3: For The Love of Philosophy
Since arriving at college, I have switched my intended double major more times than I can count. From Psychology to Mathematics to French Studies to Women and Gender Studies and now hopefully, to Political Science. Through all of this though, one constant has been my love for Philosophy. It’s a discipline I got exposed to right before leaving for the US and my time at college has only heightened my desire to delve deeper into it. A common question I get is why Philosophy? Or sometimes individuals will put an interesting spin on things and ask what I hope to do with it after college? The answer with regards to my career plans is that I’m not very sure myself. For the concerns on why Philosophy, I’d like to highlight the important place that constant learning has had in my life. This habit of asking questions and trying to figure out how the world works is the reason I seek to be educated. It’s the reason I engage with people who are different from me even when those conversations are sometimes difficult. It’s the reason I took to reading a book a week this summer and worked through 16 books. Philosophy for me is learning and it’s not just about getting specific answers. Rather, Philosophy is about learning how to ask and structure the important questions.
Lesson 4: TikTok
Apart from reading 16 books over the summer, another habit I picked up was scrolling through TikTok. From this, I’ve enjoyed many hours of laughter but maybe more importantly, I’ve been surprised by the perspectives that I encountered on the app. For me, TikTok represents both the beauty of the internet and the power of my generation (Generation Z). On TikTok, I’ve witnessed the power that lies in the hands of individuals when they work towards collective action. Whether it’s trying to make a funny video go viral or trying to get enough signatures to bring attention to a White House petition, TikTok regularly displays its power to unite people who live thousands of miles away from one another.
The lesson I’ve discovered in this is that our frustrations can come with a sense of hope. It’s a hope that finds its foundation on the shoulders of my generation who have found ways to balance these troubles we feel about inequality with taking steps towards tangible actions. It’s a balancing act that starts with our hearts being broken but ends with our hearts being broken open to hope which always floods in and provides optimism. It’s from this capacity to be broken open that I look towards the future with a renewed sense of optimism because I know I will not be alone as I work to leave a positive impact on the world.
Now, with these four lessons learned over the last one year, the question is: How will I give graciously to others? How will I use what I have been blessed with to be a blessing unto others? Personally, I hope to live every day in search of opportunities to use my gifts in ways that uplift people. With the current state of our world, we know that there are many problems to be solved, but dear friends, you can rest assured that I will do my best to be part of both our local and global solutions. And that every step of the way, I will remember those who have blessed me to be a blessing.