God gave us free will, but up to what point can we really exercise it? When we come into this world, we are placed in countries, communities and families, each with rules, cultures and structures that we have to abide by, making it harder for us to exercise our free will to the fullest. So who are we? Are we the people who we decided to be or the ones our upbringings predetermined?
A year ago, I became a feminist. Opening my eyes to the injustices against women inspired me to challenge every idea I was taught to blindly believe in. From my tasks at home to the way I approached social relationships to the way I saw myself in the future, my life was a product of the decisions that my circumstances drove me to make.
But the future provided me with faith: the possibility of being independent, of being set free from the social expectations that had shaped my path for as long as I could remember. For me, that future started with university, where I would finally be the person responsible for all of my choices, from the most trivial to the most impactful. But having independence isn't just being able to make fun and easy decisions that lead to positive outcomes; it also entails learning how to discern what is better for you while not hurting others. Starting university, then, isn’t only about starting my independent path, but actively choosing to identify and let go of my prejudices, expectations and stereotypes in order to thrive in this new stage of my life.
Social relationships represent one of these hard decisions you have to make. Movies, books and social media represent unrealistic ways of how you are supposed to experience college. I grew up thinking I would find a long-life friend, the yin to my yang, the unconditional and forever person who would be there for me even after having the fight of the century. But people have their own priorities, schedules and their own ideas of what friendship should look like that may not always match yours. Creating a picture in my head that someone would come into my life and automatically things would be okay prevented me from allowing myself to open up to other ideas of friendship, and most importantly, it prevented me from thinking I could enjoy happy moments alone.
A recent conversation with an NYU Abu Dhabi alumni about the same topic encouraged me to open my eyes to the fact that you can have different types of relationships based on your needs and theirs. You’ll probably never find someone with the same exact preferences, interests, culture and life viewpoints as yours, and even if you do, this does not guarantee a perfect relationship with no arguments or struggles.
I’m currently working on getting rid of the societal gaze in my head, telling me that if I’m ever alone, then I have no friends. I want to learn to be okay with having alone time to reflect, to get to know myself and to simply enjoy the little moments in life. Being alone doesn’t equate to loneliness. This does not mean that one should close oneself to others, but I do want to stop holding onto unrealistic ideals of friendship and start accepting relationships as they are, being open to love, and embracing differences and learning from them.
Connected to expectations, there is the culture of being a workaholic and using it to run away from my emotions. I expect a lot from myself, which has been both positive and negative for my mental health. Positive because being busy saves me from myself and my thoughts, and negative for the same reason: by not giving myself time I disregard my feelings which is highly dangerous. I’ve had a few sad moments as I barely had time to process emotions. I was mostly busy with my activism and leading my projects that I forgot to dedicate time to myself or the loved ones around me. Coming to NYUAD represents an opportunity to focus on my goals while taking care of my mental health, leaving behind unfair and unsustainable daily routines and customs.
Finally, one of the things I’m most ready to let go of is the mentality of black and white. My life has always been filled with conflicts. Being feminist and Christian at the same time is one of them. The world is so ready to make us choose between things: our complex identities, our beliefs and even between people. I’m not saying that we should live our lives in grey but rather that we are not always entitled to choose, especially between things that are a no-brainer. My country of Venezuela, full of sexism and a misogynistic culture, doesn’t allow space to question these injustices: they are intrinsically a part of our day to day life. So when people find out that I’m a Christian and, at the same time, I am an activist for gender equality, they are inclined to ask “how”, which, in other words, means “that is not possible.”
Contrary to my past, I feel safe at NYUAD. Students, more often than not, are going through similar questions and experiences, and even if they are not, they will make an effort to listen and understand. That is what makes this community so empowering and what invited me to actively leave the prejudices of others and my own behind and start exploring my identity freely here.
Overall, NYUAD represents the promised land for me. The land flowing with milk and honey that the Bible mentions, which for me, represents the richness of opportunities and freedom that I’ve longed for with all my heart. From relationship expectations to unhealthy routines and forced, unfair decisions inspired by social pressures, I am done holding on to a past way of life that prevents me from enjoying this new season.
Laura Moncada is a staff writer. Email them at email@example.com.