By Hayat Aljowaily
Author’s Note: Considering the cheesy-emotional-graduation speech material of this article, I had originally planned to publish it in the last issue of the year… but considering how well it fits this issue’s theme, I might as well do it now!
When I went home, to Cairo, for the first time last December, I was sitting at the dinner table with my family, when my father asked me if Menton had “met my expectations”. When I answered that yes, it had – he looked slightly upset:, he joked about how if he was paying that much tuition, he at least wanted me to be somewhere that exceeded my expectations.
But what he didn’t understand, is that Menton was one of the first events in my life to even meet my expectations. A movie fanatic and hopeless romantic, I’ve always been setting unreal standards for everything around me. A homecoming dance wasn’t a “good” homecoming dance unless … A birthday party wasn’t successful unless … And a research paper wasn’t good unless…. Quite naturally, this habit consistently set me up for disappointment: no matter how great a night was, or wonderful a trip was, it wasn’t good enough unless it was worthy of a book or movie scene.
I had always struggled with the concept of home. Having moved around quite a bit throughout my life, there was no one place I could call “home” – without feeling as though I am hiding or denying a part of my identity. The issue rose to my consciousness even more during my senior year of high school, as I made the decision to stay and graduate in New York, rather than return to Cairo with my family. When I first heard about my acceptance to the Dual BA program – to my complete and utter surprise – I was in a state of shock. Within the 5 months of anxious waiting until actually arriving to Menton, I had more than enough time to anticipate what my new life would be like – and to forge myself a new “home”. I would sit in the back of my English lit class, geeking out on real estate websites and the like, hyping myself up about all the incredible things that were awaiting. Despite my extreme excitement, I could not imagine that this little town, lost between France, Italy and Mediterranean, would end making me fall crazily in love with it – and finally give me the sense of belonging I had always craved.The thing about Menton is that every aspect of it is welcoming – from its students to its atmosphere. From the moment you exit the doors of Nice Airport, you are immediately embraced by the warm weather specific to the Côte d’Azur, and covered in sunshine. Upon your arrival to Menton, you are promptly cradled by its cozy ruelles, with their warm colored buildings. Finally, you ring the doorbell of the apartment of some student you have never met, who was kind enough to host you for a couple of days because your stingy proprio wouldn’t give you your apartment until September started “parce qu’il faut profiter des touristes”.
Of course, Menton is not always fun and games. When the sun starts setting before we head out of our 19:45 classes, and your fingers start hurting from typing up all those study guides, and your favorite restaurants are closed up for the winter… It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the intensity of Menton. Trapped, tired and – let’s face it – probably bored, it’s no secret that most of us forget whatever drove us here. But it takes no more than a walk on the beach at night, a train ride at sunset to god-knows-where, or a walk up to the cimetiere, to be instilled with that feeling of “I never wanna leave this place” – which is what is scariest to me. Why? I believe that Menton gives us a sense of comfort we cannot, and probably will not, find anywhere else. Perhaps the only perk of living in a bubble, is the proximity of our community that allows each of us to be, somewhat, the best version of ourselves, or at least, the one we are most comfortable with. I have done a countless amount of new things I had always been terrified of doing, with no second thoughts. And this, is what I fear we will not have anywhere else.
You only get a ticket to paradise once, right?
The first time I attended one of our infamous ‘Sablettes nights’, a few days before Integration Week 2016, I remember watching, in awe, the second years run towards each other, and hug, overwhelmed with joy, after just a few months apart. Just a year after, I found myself in the same situation – with a slight pinch not getting to embrace the 3As that had dispersed all around the world. I remember a conversation with a friend, whilst on one of those long SNCF rides, where he told me how he was freaking out about the fact that starting now, everything he did would somehow feel like the last time – forcing him to take everything in twice. I quickly found myself doing the same thing – you only get a ticket to paradise once, right?