Crossing the Border: Finding Myself through Worldwide Connection

I would not be the person that I am today had I never crossed the “border” and left my home of Jordan. As a Fulbrighter in 2009, I first came to meet people from all over the world at the UN Headquarters in New York City. The only other moments I can think of that came close to that incredible international gathering were the days I spent at graduate school at Harvard University, and time I have spent passing through some of the world’s largest airports, over the years. These meetings of people from all around the world is in the spirit of the Fulbright Program, which believes that, in connecting people, we connect nations.

Through my Fulbright program, I met numerous friends from around the world, including from the United States. I will never forget that, thanks to a friend’s treat of a trip to Carowinds — an amusement park, I once went on an exotic rollercoaster ride over the line that splits the two states of North Carolina and South Carolina. Writing these words reminds me of how, despite my acrophobia, I came down from that rollercoaster in one piece. Yet, it also brings back that enchanting moment of being on the ground in two places at once: stepping over the line with one foot in North Carolina and the other in South Carolina. And no, that was not a product of superhuman power and the adrenaline rush. That was a reality attainable by everybody on the ground –even those skipping the thrill rides!

In 2019, I came across a chart by the U.N. Refugee Agency showing the increase in international borders. The number went from seven, at the end of World War II, to 77, when the chart was released. I was baffled, to say the least. The fact that the world is increasingly turning some thin lines on its map to solid, thick, and blunt walls, seemed to my eyes as if humanity had failed the test of coexistence. My former sense of worldwide connection felt personally shaken, and I thought I must do something about that. Whatever little I can do. This led to the birth of my 2019 Fulbright ACAG project, Borderline.

Borderline was a small design installation — an outdoor intervention concerned with the notion of a free-standing wall and its role in marking an ambiguous inside-out condition. Formed of a wall that breaks down into modular segments, the installation aimed at turning the wall into a meeting point and a zone for free movement in the public domain. Neutralizing and resisting the urge to overdesign the wall was an opportunity to punch holes in my own personal “walls” as much as in those of others.

Fast forward to the surreal year of 2020. As a young architect facing many hurdles in my own country, I learned to own my thunder in the face of such barriers. I have also learned that it could take a rollercoaster-like experience to cross over some lines, and that I have a good record of coming out braver and stronger — sometimes even to my own disbelief!

Mais is a Jordanian Fulbright who graduated with her master’s in architecture from Harvard University in 2011.



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