I Triple Dog Dare You

I Triple Dog Dare You

Imagine this: you are sitting on your couch or floor cushion (holla that’s me!), and you are plugged into your phone using an app to learn–wait a minute–a different language! Ok, for me I don’t have to imagine because I’ve been just that. My French pronunciation is going to be off the charts.

Christmas Story
The most epic dare of all time. P.C. A Christmas Story.

ELLE avait UNE MAISON a PARIS!”, I bark enthusiastically to my bedroom walls.

Youssef’s concerned reply, “Umm love, is everything ok in there?”.


He comes over to find me studying on Duolingo, shakes his head, and leaves.  I smirk and then bellow:


So yeah, I triple dog dare YOU–my finger is pointing now–to start learning a language during lock down. It’s ok if you are in the process of learning one. In that case, I’m daring you to practice.

Step 1. Download DuoLingo on your phone or visit the site.

Step 2. Choose your language. Apparently Duo offers 94 languages. I recommend listening to a few on YouTube, or pick one based on where you want to travel (post Corona of course).

Step 3. Start doing the exercises on Duo, repeating everything ALOUD. ALL OF IT. Like the howling dog I dared you with. This is key if you want to actually capture a few words here.

Step 4. Do this everyday for the next month, 15 minutes per day. Make that brain do some push-ups.

Step 5. Find a friend to practice with. Compete with them to see who can get the most points on Duo each week, or challenge me! My username is Celeste531107. I suggest creating a prize for the weekly winner.

Step 6. Rinse and Repeat.

Last tip before I go back to some barking myself: Language learning is all about trying things out. I learned this best from a classmate, who while on a field trip, rolled down his window and proceeded to yell out phrases instructed by our professor to pedestrians on the street. He was like a happy dog with his head and tongue hanging out.

He taught me that you gotta look silly and take a crack at sounding the words out. You’re going to sound like a toddler, and you’re going to be wrong most of the time. But after a bit you’ll be impressed by how many household items you can name in Russian.

So be like the happy dog. Learn a new language.

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Half Full

Half Full

This week I was supposed to take on two new courses, meet roughly 32 new students, celebrate the first draft of an academic book chapter, and hang out at the slightly cringy neighborhood bar for a couple of beers. You know, the one where if you haven’t finished your last beer by 11:50 the bartender comes over to take the plate of half eaten popcorn away, and might lift up your beer only to fake an apology over the fact that you still have half remaining… and he isn’t seeing this as a glass half full situation.

This week I’m now supposed to work on administrative tasks, do my shopping before stores close up at 4pm, and stay inside from 6pm to 6am. If you aren’t home the authorities patrolling your neighborhood will want to know why… and no, I don’t think they are asking politely.


Perhaps the most exciting thing I was supposed to do is start vigorously scrubbing my apartment–floor to ceiling–in preparation for my dad’s visit. Perhaps the most disappointing thing I’m supposed to do now is scrub my floors out of frustration, not from this curfew and cancelled flights, but because of a global pandemic that we have very little control over.

And no, I’m not scrubbing the walls anymore because my dad is probably the only guest who would be visibly unsettled by a few scuff marks interrupting the pristine white of perfection. (It’s ok to laugh here ’cause I got his permission).


But having little control is a lot better than having none, and in my 26 years of experience I’ve learned you can steer the ship with that ounce of will. So, I’m grateful for the Tunisian government’s response thus far with encouraging social distancing, knowing that the country does not have resources to confront the slightest outbreak. And I’m grateful for the people I know who understand the importance of staying away and staying home. Their social responsibility and collective 20 second hand-washing efforts are commendable.

I wish you all a lot of patience when swapping what you were supposed to be doing for what you are now supposed to do. I also think you are now supposed to get a giant tub of chocolate ice cream and eat it straight out of the container–oh paaaleeeese, don’t even think of sharing in times like these with such serious germs floating around.


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All Dressed Up & No Place to Go

All Dressed Up & No Place to Go

Last Friday I looked around the mess that is my room–let’s not lie it was laundry day– and finally settled on a professional dress, black boots, and some nice earnings (to step it up a bit). That day I had three different classes in three different places. It was GO TIME.

I didn’t get far. I got my taxi, headed towards the highway… and then after seeing the ridiculous traffic my driver asked, “Where exactly are you going?”. After I told him he said suspiciously, “Alright lets try an alternative route”.

Then he turned on the radio and we both quickly realized we weren’t going anywhere. “Two suicide bombers outside the U.S. Embassy”, Mosaique FM told us. “Four officers injured and one in critical condition,” the report went on.

La Marsa, Tunis 2018.

No, we would not be headed directly towards the neighborhood that houses both the U.S. Embassy and my destination. Instead we spent the next half of an hour fighting traffic so he could drop me in the exact spot we started. With all classes cancelled I stayed home the rest of the day and felt a bit disoriented by the free time. I changed back into pajamas and became a sponge, soaking up the slight chaos created by the attack.

Coincidentally, my first class was supposed to be about counter terrorism strategies–the topic that consumed most of my life last year in grad school (I’m a big fan of security studies and am just waiting for a call from The Dog to join his bounty hunting team).

Lets get one thing straight here: Tunisia is not the land of terrorism. The Middle East isn’t either. It’s not a swamp to be drained and hardcore statistics can show us that. In fact, according to the NY Times white supremacists have outpaced Jihadis. I know, shocking, not all Muslims are terrorists and apparently white supremacists are better haters anyways.

During the rise of ISIS I was in Jordan and our very religious roommate felt compelled to explain regularly that the alleged Islamic State was not interpreting the Quran correctly, that we– non Muslims–were welcome in Amman. Since then I’ve heard from many Jordanians, Moroccans, Tunisians that the main beef they have with the U.S. is not religion but aggressive foreign policy. I mean, I’m not talking to ISIS members, but I do like to befriend everyday people and have these discussions.

As it turns out, many Tunisians are actually boggled by our gun situation and the number of school shootings. They view this American phenomenon with the same level of alarm that Westerners assign to terrorism overseas. Which is perhaps more logical considering that The Gun Violence Archive reports 419 mass shootings for 2019. So, how do we explain this? I’m usually at a loss of words when I try.

Our lovely swamp, otherwise known as the Mediterranean Sea.

The next day I looked around the mess that is my room–let’s not lie I didn’t actually get to the laundry–and continued to have a normal day like the rest of Tunis. Well, except for the injured officers and the friends and family of the one who passed away. My thoughts go out to them.

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Culture Shock vs Homesickness

Culture Shock vs Homesickness

“Culture shock is the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.”– the all-knowing Oxford Dictionary.

I don’t think I’ve ever really experienced culture “shock”. The closest I might have come to this ominous feeling was Freshmen year of college when someone turned the lights off on me in the shower. At that point I was ready to retreat back to northern Minnesota for winter break. I longed for the place where I used to shower with not only light, but also barefoot and protected by a sturdy curtain that wasn’t prone to flying in the wind every time someone opened the door in our communal bathroom.

Yes, in my experience it’s the little things that get you. My university students just recently instigated a long conversation about culture shock, “Miss have you experienced culture shock in Tunisia???”– a question that often follows the icebreaker of, “What do you think of Tunisia?”. And then I proceed with some major disappointment.

“Sometimes when I can’t find the right shampoo I get frustrated” is my pitiful answer. Nothing here represents a profound difference between the U.S. or Tunisia, nor a nuanced perspective on cultural differences. But the truth is when my hair is overly greasy and plastered to my scalp because the selection of products here favors a much more voluminous head of hair, I start to miss home. Then I start to miss the Walmart where I buy the shampoo. I miss the smell of Pantene for thin hair, and I remember my favorite ice cream and the people I like to eat ice cream with… and as you can see it’s a domino effect. Things can get pretty bad, but thank god my sister recently sent me with a stash of Redken so I can effectively suds up my hair on this side of the Atlantic.

You see, to me this sounds more like homesickness than culture shock.

“Homesickness is the distress caused by being away from home. It’s cognitive hallmark is preoccupying thoughts of home and attachment objects.” — the highly esteemed source of Wikipedia.

And after searching google for the last hour I’ve discovered something. MOST PEOPLE use culture shock and homesickness interchangeably. It seems, however, that both experiences produce the same result of feeling out of place. Culture shock may be triggered by what is different, homesickness is provoked by what is missing. Perhaps my inner negative Nelly (the one that lives next to my inner fat kid) is rearing it’s ugly face here as I tend to focus more on what I miss than what is different, thus leaving me more susceptible to homesickness. Sometimes I wish I could tell my I.F.K. to sit on Nelly and squish her until her voice is no longer audible– that story is for another post though.

But I’m not sure if Nelly is the culprit and this is why: I find the differences so exciting, not in a weird orientalist/belly dancing sort of way, but in a way where I can listen to two dialects of Arabic and notice the differences in pronunciation and vocabulary. Also in a way that I repeatedly ask my Tunisian friends how they so beautifully deal with stress and everyday anxieties (really guys, they put the Americans to shame when it comes to enjoying life).

Don’t get me wrong, though. I do my fair share of complaining about things that America does better, like customer service and driving. After three months of persistence I still do not have functional WiFi in my apartment and earlier today I discussed the idea of keeping cat shit in the car to throw at obnoxious drivers on the road. Let’s just say the grass is pretty green on both sides.

So are we really shocked? If so, by what? Below see baby Celeste in 2016 at a Moroccan wedding. She was more impressed than shocked by everyone’s ability to party until 6:00 in the morning.

In every pre-departure orientation meeting ever designed for college students traveling abroad there exists a section designed to warn bright-eyed young-ins about culture shock. I myself have completed three of these workshops. “For the first few weeks you will be enthralled with the new environment. You will experience the joys and excitement of traveling and discovering new places” *Cue the head nods of eager 20 year olds* “and then you might notice yourself a bit sad and lost”.

This shock sounds like it takes quite a while to set in. And the more I write about this, the more I prefer to use homesickness over culture shock to avoid the unnecessary othering and exotic approach. Isn’t it unfair to the beautiful differences we find in new environments? Isn’t it better to just admit that at some point we will all want our moms and dads? Or toilet paper in every restroom? Or a Chipotle burrito?

After all we are the guests in this scenario, and the main reason for visiting or living in the host country is the differences and diversity it offers.


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