Sara Al Mehairi traveled 6,647 miles from her home country of United Arab Emirates to Boston in 2011. She brought with her a quirky list of things to do, some of which included going to Wal-Mart, playing baseball, eating an apple pie and going to numerous frat parties to get the ultimate American college experience. In addition to that, she also brought her daring personality and her absolute love of life.
She had a whirlwind time during her first few years in college, visiting new places like New York and Japan, writing a relationship column for the student paper, much like that of “Sex and the City’s” Carrie Bradshaw, and was even screamed at by actor Zach Braff when interviewing him for a story for the same student paper, and she accomplished all of the items on her to-do-list. But now, as a recent graduate, Al Mehairi realizes that even though she had a good ride, she needs to find the balance between the 18-year-old Sara who was the fresh-faced immigrant ready to take on the American adventure and the more older and wiser self, ready to take on the world.
Al Mehairi came to America to study journalism. She was planning on going to a British university in the United Kingdom, but her parents encouraged her to apply to schools in America. She applied to 20 universities and finally chose Northeastern University, where she was admitted with a scholarship. Al Mehairi has always been someone who likes challenges, so she made sure she was in a dorm with all the American students instead of all international students.
“I emailed them [the housing authorities] in advance saying I don’t want to be put in International Village or anything, I want to be put in with the Americans, so I got put in Stetson East with all the American kids and my first week, I was like the fresh-off-the-boat-immigrant. I was so excited. I went to Wal-Mart, took a picture with the greeting guy, I went to so many frat parties, [be] cause I was like oh my god, America!” said Al Mehairi.
The following semester, she was a writer for “The Huntington News”, a student-run newspaper where she wrote a column called “No Sex in the City.” For her columns, she wrote about what it was like dating American guys, her experiences with them and how different it was from back home. It was a hit with the students and on more than one occasion, she was stopped in the streets like a famous celebrity and asked about her columns. She was Northeastern University’s very own Carrie Bradshaw, in the flesh, in college, in Boston.
“Sara is a very active person. She’ll always get involved with outside school things, like she was involved with the school paper,” said Omar Al Mehairi, her twin brother, via a phone interview.
Things were going well, but Al Mehairi wanted more out of her life. During her sophomore year, she realized that all that glitters is not gold. The harsh realities of being an international student in America caught up with her.
“I slowly started to see that the stars in my eyes were not there anymore. I slowly came back down to earth, to reality. This is not as perfect as I thought it would be. Journalism wasn’t going that great for me, I wasn’t happy. I was struggling with American grammar, [be]cause I didn’t learn that stuff and I just didn’t understand talking about all that. I didn’t even know what a Republican or Democrat was at that time. That is how much I didn’t know,” said Al Mehairi.
Things were not going according to plan for Al Mehairi for a while and she was not sure what she wanted. But as time passed, she put her difficulties behind her and emerged with a new goal and a new sense of being.
Al Mehairi discovered that she really enjoyed documentaries and that she was interested in being a child documentary photographer. Since then, she has made documentaries about drag queens, Arab girls and institutionalized racism in Boston. She also took an interest in Slam poetry and attended several classes. She has performed a few times and won several gift cards as awards for her poetry.
Al Mehairi learned that she loved to be spontaneous, discover new things and places and take risks. She went to Japan for a photo internship with National Geographic alone for two weeks where she was the only 19 year-old in sight, and made sure she dressed up as a geisha while there. She also went to Morocco with her family for vacations. Her parents have a house in France they visit each summer, but because she wanted to visit somewhere new, she made sure they went to Morocco. While there, she ate the local food, visited all the local sites and dressed in Moroccan garments.
“She is very fun, always down for a good time, down for everything. She wouldn’t care what other people think, she does things no one else would do,” said Bobby Namdar, Al Mehairi’s longtime best friend.
Al Mehairi has also always been a leader. She is an extrovert, she is caring and she is kind. She was a peer mentor to incoming freshman and transfer students whom she helped adjust to college life.
“Sara is, she’s interesting. She’s very dedicated; she is a peer-mentor here at Northeastern. She’s been really wonderful with the group of freshmen and transfers we have this semester. She’s very connected, she has a great heart, and she wants to see students succeed as much as we do,” said Susan Conover, administrative assistant at Northeastern University and Al Mehairi’s advisor and best friend.
Al Mehairi went through a journey of self-discovery in these four-and-a-half years where she realized who she was, who she is and who she wants to be in the future. She said she is happy with how things are now, though a little stressed about after-grad plans. She graduated this Spring and hopes to get a job for a year in Nepal and then attend graduate school.
“Every time I have a really good plan, it never works out and then I’m like, you know what, it works out better.”
Photo credits: Sara Al Mehairi