Attached to my fridge by a pyramid-shaped magnet, my DukeEngage travel itinerary has become an obsession of mine. Despite the fact that itâ€™s been up for almost a month now, Iâ€™m always stunned each time I reread it. Newark, Frankfurt, and then finally Cairo- an adventure that seems straight out of an action movie or a best-selling novel. Peering over what in reality is a boring, standard email printout, my stomach twists and turns as if on queue. My body is gripped by an interesting concoction of excitement, fear, and most importantly, uncertainty. Meanwhile, my mind flashes over what seems like hundreds of scenarios, simultaneously envisioning countless predictions of what I think my experience will be like(where was this awesome brainpower during Finals week?). Sometimes, I even find myself making excuses to go the kitchen just to get one more look at my 8 Â˝ x 11 inch obsession.
But today was different. Today, I asked myself: why am I so fixated on this simple piece of paper? Whatâ€™s so important about it? Arenâ€™t there better ways to prepare for the trip? Just then, it hit me. Like an inventor spontaneously struck by an idea, my answer came to me from nowhere: I wasnâ€™t crazy. There was a reason to my madness, a legitimate excuse.Â This travel itinerary was more than just a piece of paper. It was symbol of the task before me, a reflection of the incredible opportunity I will soon face head-on.
As I reread the itinerary, I noticed that the instructions seemed pretty standard. Depart from this airport. Arrive at that airport. What I needed to do appeared in clear, simple directions. Everything would be ok if I just followed the directions. Continuing along this train of thought, I began to think of my service goals in a similar manner. Skimming through the DE website, the objectives of the program appear pretty similar to an itinerary or schedule: clear-cut, efficient, and easy-to-digest. As I am encouraged to â€śthink creativelyâ€ť in solving world problems, my â€śitinerary of serviceâ€ť will include teaching literacy skills, supporting youth, and offering assistance with community development. Sounds easy enough to understand, right? Like its counterpart hanging on my fridge, my â€śservice itineraryâ€ť could be viewed as a clear list of instructions: I just needed to follow these steps, accomplish these goals, and I would succeed.
Yet unfortunately, this sudden burst of mental clarity seemed to come up short. If what lay before was so easy to understand and prepare for, why did I still feel like I had no idea of what to do? If anything, the more I thought about it, the less certain I felt about the entire experience. Glancing towards the fridge once agin, I was struck by another observation. Despite its clear instructions, the itinerary was full of white space, wide vacancies of information that seemed to leave out part of the picture. While I knew exactly where to be down to the minute, I didnâ€™t know what it would feel like to fly alone or how to find my gate in a foreign airport. Just as disappointing was the lack of tips for calming my nerves or finding entertainment as I zoomed over the Atlantic.
Through this lens, I soon realized my DukeEngage experience may prove to be the same way. While the projectâ€™s objectives were right there before my eyes, it was the stuff not being said that drew my attention. How will I teach literary skills? Will I be an effective tool in facilitating community development? Will the children of Ana al-Masry even like me? In between the websiteâ€™s lines and paragraphs were white spaces of the unknown; information, experiences, and questions that couldnâ€™t be explained in words. What wasnâ€™t there was just as important and exhilarating as what was.
While these new mental breakthroughs didnâ€™t exactly answer all of my questions or quell my nerves, I began to feel more comfortable with what was to come. In the end, I believe my DukeEngage experience will be a mix of these two viewpoints, a combination of expectations, objectives, uncertainties, and surprises. With the help of my DukeEngage staff and pre-trip preparation, I have a clear vision of what to accomplish during my time in Cairo. Yet in between the guides, handbooks, and emails, spans the great unknown of my day-to-day life in Egypt and just exactly how I will do what needs to be done. Removing the itinerary from its kitchen altar and placing it in my bag, I finally felt content and at ease with the certainties and uncertainties that lay ahead.