Five years ago this spring I stepped out of my comfort zone and participated in a study abroad trip to Tunisia. This was a REALLY HUGE DEAL! I had never been out of the country, and as my first trip I chose to spend 6 weeks living with families who spoke French and Arabic (neither of which I spoke) in a Muslim country in a post-9/11 world. To put it mildly, I was scared. Afraid of messing up, paranoid of insulting an entire culture, and fearful of getting lost in a country where I didn’t speak the language.

To my thanksgiving, I, along with about 17 other American students, were embraced by the 18 of the greatest Tunisian hosts you ever could imagine. Over the next 6 weeks we practiced French and learned Arabic while they practiced English, and we all bonded over delicious food, coffee, and hookah. We had an endless number of cultural exchanges and dispelled myths and stereotypes about our cultures, religions, and families. We also went to school together.

School always inspired interesting conversations between us. At the time, I was 24 years old and in my last semester of graduate school. Most of our hosts were 26ish and still in undergraduate. This was a source of intense frustration for them. They had no job opportunities, which meant they were pretty much unable to marry and start families. They found themselves stuck living at home with mom, dad, and younger siblings.

And this was not of their own making. Many were openly depressed about their situation, but they felt there was nothing they could do. They weren’t fighting against a professor, a college, or an organization. They were fighting against a government system designed to keep them down. Professors didn’t pass students in their courses, so they wouldn’t graduate from college because there were no jobs waiting on them once they completed college. So instead of the government dealing with indescribable unemployment, they simply trapped students in college.

My heart broke for them. So many of us in America take our free education for granted, and here these people were struggling in their attempts to get one. So when I heard of the uprisings in the Tunisia a few weeks ago, I had a number of mixed emotions. I was happy for a people gathering the strength to petition and fight for their rights. I was concerned for the safety and freedom of my friends on the other side of the world.  I was worried about a nation that had been known for its stability in a region infamous for instability. And I was also nervous as to how I could share my support with my friends who live in a country where their email, social network and other internet activities are monitored. I didn’t want them to have repercussions for my actions, but I also wanted them to know that I love and care for them.

So to all of my Tunisian friends, who I think of daily, love dearly, and miss intensely, know that you are in my thoughts. I’m sending up prayers now that each of you and your friends and love ones get the freedom, peace, and success that you deserve. I love you, guys and gals! Hugs and kisses. XOXO