On Moving

Today I drafted and queued my final MIT Admissions blog post. Wanting to continue writing, I opened this medium account. It feels a little like moving; writing this is like unpacking my first boxes, the emptiness of my profile like an empty, open apartment. I look around and I’m in a new and different place, and I don’t know anyone here. I grew up (or rather, wrote about growing up) elsewhere — tumblr — matured (and written about matuting) in yet another place — the MIT Admissions blogs — and settled here, where I will write for at least the first few chapters of the next volume of my life.

My relationship to places has always been a little strange and temporary-feeling, despite growing up in Colorado my whole life. I attribute a lot of this to being mixed, to frequent trips to visit family in China and Ethiopia, and at the same time, realizing at an early age how different we were from our neighbors and school friends. We were surrounded by our local communities at the time, too. I remember being very proud of this at that time. My first Facebook profile picture caption from middle school read, “I am 50% Chinese, 50% Ethiopian, and 100% awesome!!” Humorous and a little cringe-worthy to look back on, but ultimately, full of pride.

I am not sure when I learned self-hatred. But I think it also had something to do with moving.

We moved from the city of Denver to the suburbs, and I went from elementary school in Denver to middle school in my new district. Later, my mother moved into a different house. At an awkward time, middle school, and a time I was looking for solidarity and support from my family, it would seem like everything had disintegrated, like everything I had to be proud of had disappeared. I began to feel that I didn’t belong, on many levels — at my school, in our neighborhoods, in the world. I started to notice things, or maybe just to see differently, things my younger self would have laughed at.

Such as, I was never seen as my mother’s daughter when I went out with her, so blind were people to the obvious social cues of how we treated each other, because they couldn’t see past my face. And it was simply a matter of time before my experiences reflected the fact that I was black in America, and this is something that would blind people too.

Disenfranchised (with everywhere, but particularly with where I lived) I looked forward to going to Boston for college. I was, surprisingly, homesick when I got there, and it took me a while to get used to the unfamiliar place around me. I realized that I am a human being, and therefore a creature of habit, and such a disruption of place and lifestyle would make itself known. Maybe this is why we get attached to places, sometimes places we don’t even particularly like — it’s simply that we know them. When I called my father from school, he said the same thing: “sometimes the devil you know is better than the angel you don’t.”

At MIT, I was fortunate to find a home, where a little of the hatred I had learned would be undone, or at least, I would meet other people who had gone through similar things. It was much more diverse than my high school, and I would, for the first time, feel like I belonged. Though I knew I would love MIT, I did not realize how much it would become a part of me, and how much it would influence my life and perspective. I don’t know if this is true of every environment or every college, but I know that I feel this way, in large part, because I found many communities I loved, and quickly found the love returned.

It was not only about cultural background, but also about different interests and perspectives. I found people who were excited for me and who I could be excited for. As my friend Elizabeth C. would say, our community is full of people who would never make fun of anyone for something they were genuinely interested in, however “nerdy” or “weird”. I found people who did not make fun of me for my dreams and ambitions, and even better, would share in them, and dream with me.

Now, it feels a little like I am starting all over again, staring at empty walls, wondering what to put on them. I can’t decide whether to be more frightened or excited, because the world is big and chaotic and truly anything could happen. I look up and out, and I want to reach out and take on everything, to perform projects on different continents, to be busy and dynamic, to be part of so many movements I would excitedly discuss with my friends at MIT. But I look back, or down at my feet, and I am worried about much smaller things — will I be good enough at my job? Will I be able to get into grad school, if I want to go someday? Will I really have the courage to take the leaps I want to, even if it means falling hard and failing? These are things I thought I learned how to do (and I did) but still tug at the back of my mind. Life so far has felt like a constant process of scaling up.

As I unpack all these things before you here, I am looking out at the empty white spaces and wondering what will become of them. What is the new home I will make for myself; what will I do; what people will I find.

Only one way to find out.



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Selam G.

Selam G.

MIT grad, robotics engineer, mixed. A place I write.