It all started in 2010 on the 16th of June at 6:00 am. My flight was about to take off to the United States of America, the land which many call the land of dreams. Not only was this my first time on a plane, but it was also my first time traveling to another country and continent too! At the time, I was a 16 year old high school student that grew up in a typical Libyan family- my mother is a teacher and my father works in the army. I was five foot tall and had big plans for the future.
My journey to the states began with a phone call from the US Embassy in Tripoli notifying my father that I was one of the 24 students that had been selected to participate in Space Camp- a 10 day intensive training program in Huntsville, Alabama that was sponsored by the US State Department. I was literally jumping with joy and ecstatic beyond belief, all my hard work had finally paid off.
After almost 24 hours worth of transit, I had made it to Washington, DC.
It was around ten o’clock at night or so when we landed, so after all the security checks, we were all taken with exhaustion and excitement. On the way to the hotel, the cab driver asked us questions: “Where were we from? Why we were in the states and if it was our first visit?” Once we told him that we were from Libya, he replied that he was born in Ghana, but had lived in Libya for a period of time. It turns out that he spoke a bit of Arabic in the Libyan dialect and he understood every word we exchanged when we got into the cab.
By the next morning’s dawn, we were all awake and boarding a bus to Huntsville, Alabama. After a nine hour drive, we had made it to Space camp! As the camp staff divided us into groups named after past NASA missions my heart filled with joy and pride, I was now a member of Team Oberth. Our team of 8, 5 Libyans and 3 Americans, was named after one of the founding fathers of rocketry and astronautics, Hermann Julius Oberth.
The next morning, we were awaken by an emergency alarm at 6 o’clock, one of the camp’s mentors was at the door and informed us that each one of us only have thirty minutes to shower and dress up. That was the quickest thirty minutes in my entire life, I don’t usually shower in five minutes but surprisingly, I made it.
After an impromptu 6:00 A.M. wake-up call by an emergency alarm, followed by just thirty minutes to shower and dress, we were off to the dining hall to meet the other American students and team trainers. We entered the building and saw about a hundred students sitting around tables.
After having breakfast my team mentors, Rachel and Kevin, explained to us that the next ten days would be a mix of physical and mental activities as well as classes starting at 7:30 in the morning and ending at 10:30 at night with two 30-minute breaks for lunch and dinner. And, of course, the infamously strict lights-out policy at 11:00 P.M. sharp. There would be scuba diving classes, introductory aeroplane and aerospace classes, gravity simulations, rocket module building, space mission simulations and, my favorite of all, teamwork activities.
The teambuilding and bonding activities took place at Area 51, the land-based leadership training course that centered on outdoor challenges and activities requiring group communications, leadership skills and, of course, teamwork. It was intense and difficult, but incredibly rewarding. So by the time our two days of team-building missions were over, we had not only grown closer, but also learned a great deal about one another as well.
In addition to receiving our certificates of completion at the closing ceremony, Team Oberth was awarded the ‘Area 51’ challenge for outstanding team-building and the honor of having our last meal with Astronaut, Robert Hoot Gibson. So as my journey came to an end, I thought to myself about how much I had learned in just ten short days, how proud I was of both myself and of my friends, how Space Camp was an eye-opening experience that taught me to seize every given moment and opportunity to explore the world that we live in. This journey has changed me tremendously in so many different ways, and for that, I am grateful.