In a lot of ways, I have not grown over the course of four years. I still sleep too much, I do not respond to text messages and I keep losing things — my keys, opportunities, friends, my ability to be productive on the second floor of Lauinger Library and, perhaps most importantly, the 2016 Georgetown Day bulldog.

As a way to track my bad habits sophomore year, I started a game with my housemates in which mainly I and my direct roommate participated. We were supposed to record every failure of that week — like missing a work shift, failing surprise quizzes or leaving Lau after five hours with nothing accomplished.

All the things we managed to ruin mostly from self-sabotage and poor habits — many of which were embarrassing — would be on display in the living room. The goal was to tally the failures, and whoever had the worst week would get a “pity party”: an excuse to eat ice cream rooted in the desire to uplift each other during our worst moments. However, like most things we tried to plan, we never really got to the celebratory part and the tradition itself petered out.

There were, of course, failures that seemed too intimate; writing them down on the wall of a college apartment felt too exposing. At times, I felt isolated and disappointed in myself — college was supposed to be a cultural reawakening when I, as a first-generation Eritrean American, would finally embrace the beauty of my parents’ heritage.

I was supposed to put down the frozen chicken nuggets of my childhood and pick up the “smelly” food my elementary school classmates mocked, or so I was told. In reality, I was concerned being Eritrean had a list of prerequisites that I did not live up to: My Tigrinya is terrible, I do not yearn to eat injera every week, I rarely listen to traditional Habesha music and, even more damning, I am not a good dancer. Still, what my insecurity came down to was my predominately non-African or Eritrean friend group when I believed that surrounding myself by my cultural community was what I needed to validate my identity. I felt like I failed at maintaining my heritage, by practice and by company.

Academically, a dark cloud also weighed down on me throughout my sophomore year when pushing through the “sophomore slump” felt like drowning. I was so terrified of not living up to the standards to which I assumed all Georgetown University students should measure themselves. I felt so stupid in discussion sections of School of Foreign Service classes, where I felt like I had nothing valuable to add nor could I really understand most readings. Even if I thought of something worth saying, the anxiety in my stomach would keep my hand down and mouth shut.

It was only after leaving Georgetown to study Arabic for a semester in Amman, Jordan, that I feel rejuvenated or, as they say, “study abroad changed me.” I returned to Georgetown in January 2018 and soon attended the second annual Women in Faith retreat, which I helped organize. Being away from Georgetown for so long provided me the physical and emotional distance to evaluate what really impacted me on the Hilltop, so when we were asked to write down our sources of strength, I was a little surprised by my answers: my job and my roommate.

My job changed the way I understood myself. The African studies program hired me as a student assistant in September 2015. I applied only to provide for myself for the first time, which primarily meant financing my expensive coffee habit. Yet it became more than just a work-study job. In that period of uncertainty, where I doubted the authenticity of my identity as Eritrean, the African studies program was my connection to the continent when I felt I had no other. It led me to new friends, both students and professors, and showed me a way that I could naturally fit into fabric of the Eritrean diaspora.

On the days I regretted my decision to come to Georgetown and also the days I could not imagine my life differently, I went to work with people whom I considered family. My coworker is my little sister, and professors are my parents, aunts and uncles. The staff members of the African studies program were the first adults to treat me like a peer and friend, not a child. They taught me that academics, like me, are not perfect, and there is no single path to success. It was a space in which I never felt dumb, and I realized there that I always have something to offer — even if it is just banter, a smile or directions to an office. Slowly, this mindset developed at work helped alleviate the anxiety I felt in class everyday; it made me bold and confident with myself as “enough.”

I can trace what growth I’ve had over four years through my job — there was nothing more constant or centering in my life at Georgetown than the African studies program.

My roommate changed the way I understood friendship. Nearly every night for a year, we would return home from Lau at 3 a.m. and begin our endless nighttime routine of telling each other about our days. Despite my mistakes, insecurities and shortcomings, what I will remember about Georgetown are the silly times with her: When we ate ice cream on the floor of our house with a single spoon or created odd, coming-of-age rituals to which we subjected our friends on all important days. Together we learned there is always a way to recover from a trash mistake if you try, and it would bring me immeasurable joy if we could spend the rest of our lives supporting each other.

As I prepare to leave Georgetown, unemployed and eagerly anticipating what is to come, it is all of my previous failures which temper my anxiety. They remind me that nothing is certain, and with each mistake or missed opportunity is a sweeter one, a lesson or at least a funny story. I hope to never forget that my strength at Georgetown could often be found right next to my weaknesses, and my failures next to my favorite memories.

Hannan Ahmed is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.

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