But you can’t take the Dickinson out of the student.
I’m tasting the alumni life pre-graduation due to the overlap between my work in Cameroon and Dickinson’s semester-long and summer study-abroad programs.
It’s an immensely gratifying feeling to be able to welcome my travelling comrades to the country I consider my second home. It’s rewarding to be in a position of a competent adult and professional instead of a somewhat-helpless student. It’s pleasantly bizarre to be welcomed back to the same apartment where I sent six student-y months, now as the Dickinsonians-in-Cameroon authority.
It’s bizarre too: I realized how long I’d been away from Dickinson when, before I was introduced at Dickinson’s summer program orientation, someone asked when I had graduated. It’s weird, yet almost relieving, to know that I will have one more year to live the college life, but with a different perspective: Knowing that the time to read for hours and go to the gym when I want are precious, knowing that getting up at 6am (or 8, or 9) is not impossible, and knowing that listening to people talk about frat parties will soon be history.
The Dickinson-in-Cameroon embassy visit fell on the last day of the program, only hours before the students would depart. They waited in line outside the gate for their visitor’s badges in their various adaptions of Cameroonian printed fabric, leather sandals and various stages of emotional daze or dissolution, and I could see that they had become Cameroon the way my group and I had. I longed to tell them that this was not goodbye, that Cameroon would never really fade from their souls, and, without sentimentality, that the path back to Cameroon was short if they willed it—and worked at it. Instead I said, “Follow me.”
I love talking about Cameroon. I can go on and on for far longer than anyone wants to listen to me. So when Dickinson-in-Cameroon director Teku T. Teku asked me to run the orientation meeting for the summer program students, my response was…JACKPOT! An insufferable tour guide loves nothing more than a captive audience.
I tried to hit every possible topic of import that I could, without oversimplifying, without lecturing, and feeling suddenly very culpable as my peers absorbed every word I said seriously, eyes fixed on me. I tried to convey the enthusiasm I feel for Cameroon while impressing upon them the realities of living safely and healthily in a country so different from our own.
What I think they’ll remember from my hour-long speech? Don’t drink the water. Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers. Please, please call me if you’re going to do something not-so-permitted. Always, always be militantly optimistic. Be mindful, but have no fear. And honestly, I think those are the essentials.