It’s a very odd feeling to be back in the U.S. I don’t know if I am just more aware of it now, or if it happened more this time, but I have been told “welcome back home” by people that usually don’t say it…or I don’t remember them saying it. The first person who told me that was a customs agent, who said it in an oddly genuine way: “Welcome back home, Mr. Mattozzi.” The next person was the flight attendant on my flight back to Portland, Maine. Whenever I fly back from school, I don’t remember them saying welcome home. The reason I am bringing this up is that I’m not sure if I feel at home. It’s a foolish thing to say, I know, I’ve spent all of my 21 years of life in this country, my childhood was here, most of my friends are here. But for some reason everything seems distant. I wouldn’t say I’m frustrated, or particularly lonely. Maybe misplaced is a good word. I feel like I had such a profound experience finding a part of myself that I have been struggling to find for a while. And now that I found it, I have to leave Morocco. As I mentioned in a previous post, I do have plans to go back to the region, not to reminisce on the past, but to grow and learn even more. Even though these plans are still in the “hopeful dream” phase, it is a comforting thought that will motivate me to do all that I can to achieve that goal of returning to Morocco.
It is not just the fact that I found my ethnic identity while studying abroad, but also that I grew so much as a journalist. I did things that gave me a taste of what it will be like to be a professional journalist. I worked on what I felt was an important topic that gave me the opportunity to speak with government officials, heads of NGOs and other people involved in my interests. I had deadlines and editing sessions with my advisor who writes for the New York Times, and I learned how to navigate through murky situations with little guidance. A few students on my study abroad program researched some pretty emotionally difficult topics, and when we felt overwhelmed or needed a break, we’d go out together and vent and get our minds off things. I know how to write better, interview better, look for details, and describe things in a way that will make people feel like they can relate and better understand the topic I am writing about. I learned that there are stories everywhere, you just have to ask the right kinds of questions and look hard enough. All of these things came together to form an experience that I believe impacted me on a very deep level. I know I have said this before, but I cannot emphasize enough how grateful I am to the Gilman Scholarship for giving me this absolutely stunning, amazing, life changing opportunity that I would not have had without Gilman.
Now, to the future. In the short term, I am going to continue working on my project from Morocco to see if it can be published in the near future. For the long term, I am going to start organizing the specifics of my plan to study in the Mediterranean or in Southern Italy via the Fulbright, the Fulbright-National Geographic Fellowship, or another scholarship or grant. I have to dive in and do as much research as I can so I can be ready to answer any questions that come my way and help people understand the region and its collective history and culture better.
Whether I like it or not, I am back home, but as a different person. I should not dwell too much on the past and the little things I should have done while in Morocco. My eyes have been opened, and my curiosity has been piqued. This past semester has been an amazing journey, and I hope it is just the beginning.