Michele Richinick's blog

Something’s missing

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There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered. Nelson Mandela

Eleven days have passed since most members of the “JT-32” group landed on U.S. soil from our 33-day trip to the Middle East. But, somehow, it already seems as if we never left. The entire trip has become a distant memory, a reality of the past that will never occur again in the same places with the same group of people. After returning home to Central Massachusetts just before midnight last Monday (after flying, taking a bus and, finally, riding in my dad’s car), I didn’t allow myself much time to relax. I began my third and final co-op just three days after, partly because I prefer remaining busy to sitting idle at home. But mostly because I predicted that adjusting to my daily routine in the United States wouldn’t compare to our travels in Jordan and Turkey.

I was completely on target with my prediction.

With each passing moment, I find myself reminiscing about the trip and thinking about what I would be doing seven hours ahead of time in either country. Until a few days ago, my watch was still on “Jordan/Turkey time.” Thinking seven hours ahead: Perhaps I would be interviewing a source for one of my stories in a building near the Cemberlitas rail stop in Turkey. Perhaps I would be eating lunch at my favorite chicken shawarma restaurant, simultaneously posting to my blog using free WiFi access wisely. Perhaps I would be walking around the Grand Bazaar to find the perfect souvenir that would remind me of Istanbul. Or, if I was lucky, perhaps I would be drinking tea and sharing personal stories with a stranger at his office in Amman.

Whatever the case, I imagine my life would be more adventurous in Jordan or Turkey than it has been in Massachusetts. I quickly recovered from jet lag, but I spent several transition days wishing to turn back time. When I drive around in the suburbs, I miss the craziness of the roads in Amman and Jordanians’ disobedience of traffic laws. When I pour myself a cup of coffee (which isn’t Nescafe) each morning, I miss the tea that I drank in both countries – both alone and with strangers – and my ability to survive and thrive each day without intaking an abundance of caffeine. When I drink a glass of tap water, I miss the “water man” in Istanbul who I bought large bottles from each day for less than one Turkish lira. When I get into bed each night, I miss recapping the day with Erin, and talking about our planned adventures for the following day. When people rudely or carelessly answer me, I miss the polite and genuine ways of the Jordanian and Turkish people who tried their best to understand my questions and requests, even if they barely spoke English. When silence fills the air, I miss the daily calls to prayer. When a waitress serves me rice pilaf, I miss the long-grained, yellow rice that I ate every day in Amman. When I buy an item in a store, I miss bargaining with the salesperson for a lower price than the listed amount.

Needless to say, reentering the United States has been a challenge, and I fear it will only become harder as time progresses. Once I passed through customs at the JFK airport last week, I immediately saw a Dunkin’ Donuts. My heart skipped a beat. I was reunited with my love. And when I hugged my dad outside the bus on Forsyth Street in Boston, I noticed his relief that his youngest daughter returned home safely, in one piece. When I finally arrived home in Holden, the house was decorated with American flags and a “Welcome home” sign – equipped with memories I had mentioned in my posts – that my sister created. Oh, and the fridge and counters were stocked with some of my favorite snacks – pasta salad, chips, salsa and animal crackers.

When I am not working, I have spent my days at home visiting relatives and friends, sharing my stories face-to-face with them over lunch, dinner or ice cream…but not the ice cream from Istanbul that cost one Turkish lira, which is about $0.63 in the States. There are still several people I haven’t seen yet, and can’t wait to hug.

But the freshness has worn off.

As much as I enjoy being home in the summertime, spending time with the people I love and working in the news business that I am passionate for, something’s missing. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I feel a void. An emptiness that I’m afraid will never be full again. I now know too much, have met extraordinary people and have seen too many beautiful and devastating sights to be the same person. At some moments, I feel I can’t connect with people I am talking to. I’m not a violent person, but part of me wants to slap some individuals across the face, wake them up to reality and tell them there are more important things in life than what they are concerned about. That some people in the world, like in Jordan and Turkey, are just fine living simply.

So why can’t we?


Written by Michele Richinick

June 24, 2011 at 8:56 pm

Posted in The States

Day 33: This could really be the good life

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I have been thinking about this particular post for weeks now, and have written parts of it for the past three days. It pains me that I can’t convey the influence of this trip with simple words on a blog. I’m not sure that I really need to, either. But I can’t avoid mentioning the lessons I learned.

After 33 days living abroad, I like to think I have changed and become a *better* person.

Maybe I changed physically, too. The amount of bread I consumed since the first day in Jordan ruined my hope of shedding a few pounds in the Middle East. I have stayed away from a scale, but I know my hopes didn’t come true. But I tried new foods to immerse myself in the culture. And I know I shouldn’t regret that.

But, more importantly, I changed mentally.

I learned to be more accepting of people, more open-minded. To slow down from a hectic lifestyle and appreciate the beauty of this world and the various people who inhabit it. At the beginning, when a man asked me to drink tea with him, I would stare blankly and create some lame excuse of why I couldn’t join him. “Not today. I’m really busy.” Or, “I just drank something. I’m not thirsty right now.”

Is my life really that busy that I couldn’t simply sit down with someone for 20 minutes? How could I refuse to talk with someone who welcomed me into his country? I was being selfish. But by the end of the trip, I accepted “tea time” with someone almost every day.

I proved – both to myself and to others back home – that the Middle East isn’t filled with bearded, gun-toting terrorists aiming to destroy the enemy. No, that’s not the case at all. I left my bubble to explore the world and to meet people with different cultures, lifestyles, religions, personal interests and beliefs unlike my own. Maybe some of my beliefs and ideas are important, but I realized there is always another person out there who has more interesting things to say. And I think the ability simultaneously to recognize those opposing beliefs and to be respectful of other’s opinions is a trait not many people possess.

In the words of Professor Sullivan, Northeastern’s Dialogue of Civilizations are meant for students to learn, to grow and to experience something special. They are summer semesters worth eight credits each. But instead of sitting in stuffy classrooms five days a week, we explored the world and developed lifelong relationships.

It is always nice returning home, but I realize I will never travel again with this wonderful, mature group of people. A group of journalists all helping each other – sharing sources, taking snapshots for stories, traveling together to interviews. The dynamics of the group were incredible, and I don’t think any other Dialogue is similar. I am grateful for meeting every single one of them, and for continuing my relationship with one of my best friends, Erin, who has been my roommate for the past three years.

And for Carlene, for making me a better journalist.

We might not have changed the world, but we certainly exposed our families and friends back home to the injustices that exist. The trip itself reminded me why I chose to be a journalist. It reaffirmed my growing interest for activism.

Some people have discussed maintaining their blogs after we return. But I don’t think my life back home fits with my life in the Middle East. I don’t want my experiences to be tainted by my lifestyle in the U.S., so this might be my last post. Perhaps I will blog in a few days or one week to assess my ability to adapt to life back home. But I think it will be difficult. I don’t think I will be able to convince many strangers to sit down with me and drink tea. It simply is not going to happen. The person won’t have time.

It sounds cheesy and impossible, but I don’t have any regrets from this trip. Sure, I wish I was able to find more time to talk to family members and friends back home. But I can thankfully say I was enjoying each moment abroad in place of not Skyping with them every day. That’s what the next few weeks will be about – sharing my experiences and realizations, and reminiscing about the past five weeks, about the dream that has brought us back to reality.

I wouldn’t ask to change anything. But I would request turning back time to do it all again. Life will never be the same. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. ♥

Enjoying our last sunset in Turkey, as one big family.

Written by Michele Richinick

June 13, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Posted in Turkey


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Here I am again, sitting down to write about what I have learned and how I have changed. But I’m not ready to end the adventure. I just finished packing and will soon gather with others to share our last night here together. It is now almost 1:30 a.m. Put simply, we are avoiding sleep. With a mere seven hours left in Istanbul, I don’t want time to pass with my eyes closed.

I gave in to the denial of ending the trip by packing. But I did it with anger. I emptied all of the contents in my luggage onto the bed, only to hastily and carelessly pile everything back inside. At this point, everything is dirty and everything smells. In fact, I don’t remember ever smelling so bad as I have in Istanbul. Even after taking a shower, I think I smell five minutes later. Clean isn’t in my vocabulary here.

I don’t think I will be able to gather my final thoughts until reality sets in on the plane tomorrow. So, you will probably hear from me then. But here is a photograph with Carlene, taken after the goodbye dinner on the roof of our hotel:

I hope I can someday be the successful journalist Carlene is.

Written by Michele Richinick

June 12, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Posted in Turkey

Day 32: As time dwindles…

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…the tears are starting to flow. Goodbye to the Middle East and this trip, which seemed like a dream that would never make us return to reality. Goodbye to waking up each morning, giddy with excitement for the strangers we will meet in foreign places. And goodbye to the new friends who we shared adventures, laughs and tears with.

Erin and I spent our last day in Istanbul walking around with Geoff, Lila and Calvin, who showed us a quaint section of the city with some of the oldest houses and mosques I have ever seen.

Now, as I sit in the hotel room to get ready for the “goodbye dinner” we will all share together, I read Geoff’s most recent post. Thinking about what to share on my blog as my final thoughts from Istanbul (to come later) and reminiscing about this incredible trip, I can’t help but get a little emotional when I read it. I feel ridiculous, but I hate when things end. I guess that goes along with my detest for change.

Geoff writes:

We’re here to write compelling stories and we do it because we’re lucky enough to spend each day meeting strangers, going on adventures and caring enough about our final product to be up, at 4:38 a.m., working furiously to make sure we do it right.

I can’t think of a better way to say it.

Written by Michele Richinick

June 12, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Posted in Turkey

Day 31: Crossing the finish line

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Today I filed my second story from Turkey, and final article for the trip. Read here.

I feel both relieved – all my work is complete, including the writing assignments for Professor Sullivan – and exhausted. On average, I reported and wrote one story each week, which is actually an eternity in the world of journalism. I realize that, someday hopefully as a professional journalist, I will write more than one story each week. But adjusting to two different cultures while making new friends and touring were obstacles in the way of work.

I remember sitting in the classroom at SIT in Amman listening to Carlene ‘s expectations and wondering how I would ever write four stories in two unknown territories with language barriers.

It seemed impossible 31 days ago. But now I feel accomplished and proud of the work I produced, along with the stories and photographs from the other 18 journalism students. I don’t normally brag, but I think we are one talented group of people, each with our own strengths and weaknesses, demonstrated by the variety of story topics published on the website.

And I wouldn’t change this experience for anything. But I will save those thoughts for tomorrow when I am sitting in the hotel room avoiding packing and writing one final, somber blog post. It will be strange not blogging everyday about anything and everything that crosses my mind when I am home. This blog has been my file cabinet of thoughts since the day I started packing.

But maybe I will continue the blog I maintained last semester for class. Or make a new one – “A day in the life of Michele Richinick.”

On second thought, maybe I should rethink that.

Anyway, after attending “tea time” at a cafe this afternoon to say goodbye to Professor Sullivan, who is leaving a day earlier than the rest of us, I went to the Grand Bazaar with Ally and Lauryn to bid farewell to our jewelry friend. While we looked around, he served us apple tea. Oh, how I will miss the hospitality of people once I am back in the U.S.

Heaven on Earth. Could it be??

Two days from returning home, I finally found chips and salsa and chicken with rice and chickpeas. I was in paradise. In case you don’t know, Erin and I love to snack on chips and salsa. It’s probably one of my favorite combinations ever, and I was deprived of it until last night. We went to a Mexican restaurant. Random and weird, but satisfying. (Dad, if you’re looking for something to welcome me home with, a bag of chips and a can of salsa will do it.) For lunch today, Erin and I went on a hunt for the rice combo. I think we almost fell over with excitement when we turned the corner and found the restaurant a classmate recommended.

Now I am going to go pretend we have more than 46 hours before we leave Turkey….

Chicken, rice and chickpeas

Written by Michele Richinick

June 11, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Posted in Turkey

Day 30: A race against time

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It’s hard to believe we only have two more full days before the trip comes to an end. And probably just two or three more blog posts to reflect on the next 48 hours. It seems like just yesterday we were sitting at our gate in JFK, introducing ourselves and wondering who we would befriend in the coming five weeks.

Now we are like a family. It’s weird thinking that, after Monday afternoon, I might not see some of these people again…or at least for a long time. Three of them walked at Northeastern’s graduation ceremony in May because they only needed these eight credits to fulfill university requirements. Off to the real world they will go.

But that’s enough sadness for now. Two days can be an eternity to spend time together, right?

As we all scramble around the city reporting, taking pictures, buying souvenirs, revisiting our favorite sights, tasting authentic food, drinking tea with strangers and exploring the unknown territories, we are battling time, which is passing faster each minute. Check out Lorena’s jewelry story. Most of the females in the group have visited the shop at least three or four times to marvel (and purchase) the one-of-a-kind jewelry.

It’s not everyday we’re in Turkey. That has been my motto when shopping. Dangerous, but ever-so-satisfying.

In the midst of reporting and writing my final story, and working on the last paper for Professor Sullivan’s class, I managed to squeeze in some exploring:

Written by Michele Richinick

June 10, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Posted in Turkey

Day 29: Reporting from Turkey

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Reporting in Turkey has been a different experience than in Jordan. In reality, I have had more trouble here finding people who speak enough English for an interview than in Amman.

Nonetheless, read my first story from Turkey here!

Written by Michele Richinick

June 9, 2011 at 11:17 am

Posted in Turkey