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I am thinking about where I was before this experience, where I have “gone” with it over time, and the fact that I am leaving this place too soon. The culmination of these thoughts is bringing me close to tears. I can’t use words to describe what this trip has done to and for me. Unfortunately, I haven’t answered the questions I had 3 months ago: “How do I know when I am ignorant and should observe/listen?” “How do I know when I must speak up for the good of the group?” Despite their continued dancing through my mind, unanswered,  they have been extremely relevant throughout this whole trip.

I am moved to tears because, to a large extent, I have achieved every goal I had for this experience. I know from watching my students improve and reading their essays, emails, and letters that I have made a real, positive impact upon them. If only they knew the impact they have had on me. I care for them so much. I feel responsible to help them achieve all of their dreams. This started and may end, inevitably, being about my personal growth. It hasn’t been about me for the past 5 weeks, though. It is all about them. They are so smart, talented, generous, ambitious, and I can’t leave my own mark on this world knowing that I didn’t do my best to show others that they can and are obligated to do the same. I want them to feel important and loved and valuable to society. I want them to know that they matter. I don’t know what that means for me and my purpose, but it changes everything.

My wish for them also presents an internal conflict for me when I think about their political status in this country that I have grown to love. These kids, who matter so much to me and have so much to offer to the world, probably won’t ever be able to use their gifts for the betterment of Lebanon. Lebanon is an extremely diverse, rich, resilient nation with breathtaking topography and its own beautiful, unique cultural flavor. It is also a broken nation. Lebanon has endured endless war, attacks from all sides, and complex internal conflicts. It also treats its Palestinian refugees completely differently than any other country that absorbed a large population of them following the Israeli occupation. Palestinians in Lebanon don’t have rights. They can’t own property or get legitimate jobs outside of refugee camps. It’s extremely painful for me to be so in love with a country, yet completely disagree with and feel heartbroken over one of its most concrete policies.

In light of that, maybe Lebanon doesn’t deserve the talents that my kids have to give. If that is the case, my experience feels even more rewarding. The whole purpose of me being here was to help them become familiar with their international options for college and arm them with the tools to take advantage of them. If my students must leave this breathtaking but ungrateful environment and offer themselves up to a new society that will appreciate them, then so be it. They will still be using their gifts for the good of the world, and that is all that matters. I only pray that one day Lebanon will understand the horrible waste problem on their hands, and I’m not talking about their enduring trash conundrum.