Over the past 340 days, there have been moments when I have seriously questioned my decision to do this fellowship. Each time that I did a cost-benefit analysis and compared myself to my peers with whom I graduated,  I wondered if I had wasted my year and pondered what I had to show for it in terms of professional development. I looked at my training plan with the critical eye that I am known for and saw too many “reds” (incompletes) and “yellows” (some progress made) and far less “greens” (objective achieved). I wondered if I couldn’t have learnt all I had learnt in a much shorter time. Maybe my expectations had been too high, maybe I wasn’t able to see my own growth, maybe the metrics I was using were wrong or inadequate. Whatever the choice I would have made if I could turn back time, is irrelevant. What matters is what I have learned and what I will do with it.

What have I learnt? I have learnt that relationships matter a great deal.  I have met at least one person  on this fellowship who has left me in awe of their strength, brilliance and inner beauty, at least a handful who have made me want to be a better person because of their values, depth and unique perspectives and at least one or two who have forced me to change because of how they have challenged/tested me. I feel lucky to have met people like Asmaa and Mayada who have pushed me to think more deeply and more critically. People like Aditi, Momo and Hamza make me want to be kinder, nicer, more humble and more positive and others like Mohammed have made me want to read more widely and know more.

As I sat on the couch at a surprise party we held for Julie’s goodbye, it hit me how amazing this intercultural space is. I have learnt to say “habibi” instead of I love you, to belly-dance every time I hear Shik Shak Shok and to cook everything with a spoonful of Masala.

What makes this fellowship worthwhile are the amazing fellows, change-makers, professionals and leaders who are excited to learn more about each other’s cultures and to form a family with others who seem so different from their families back home.

No matter how I grade my year on the other metrics, if I measure my year on relationships, then I am in the green.

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