Photo Credit: Abdulrahman Galal

I was born and raised in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, the place that I proudly call home and that nurtured me into a candidate for the prestigious Atlas Corps Fellowship – a U.S. Sponsored program which selects young social change leaders from all around the globe for the opportunity to serve in the United States for a period of 12-18 months. It has been quite a tremendous journey from one Atlas to another. Just as I used to take long outings into the Atlas Mountains, my future stands at the beginning of new path with Atlas Corps and its dozens of outstanding non-profit leaders whom I now call family.

The marathonian process to apply for and obtain my visa has already proved itself to be worth it. As soon as I laid foot in my host organization, GlaxoSmithKlein (GSK), a global pharmaceutical company, and had my first interactions with my supervisor, Ahsiya Mencin, and wonderful colleagues – through whom I learned better about my new role – I realized how tremendous of a chance it will be for me to enhance and develop myself and my goals through my service at GSK. I will be contributing to their PULSE Program (GSK’s volunteering branch).

GSK is situated in the heart of Philadelphia’s Navy Yard. The modern structure shines like a diamond: At first glance, glowing glass facades glimmer with the bright future that awaits me. Beyond entrance gates, the workplace, a beehive, which is rated one of the friendliest workplaces for work-life balance, buzzes with activity. Getting acclimated to the GSK work routine was a top priority. Confusion about the workplace and schedules did not last. My first sense was that there were no specific work schedules like I was used to back home. It is at that point that I realized how flexible the work environment at GSK is. From time to time, I could see employees bringing their toddlers for lunch at GSK’s cafeteria for a joyful moment with their co-workers. Also, working from home (typically every Friday and for some Friday and Monday) is a common concept to which I am not accustomed. However, it only took a few weeks for me to get up to speed with the rhythm and culture of this new working environment.

When William Penn set up the first blocks of the city of Philadelphia, my new harbor and one of the most culturally and historically vibrant cities in the country, in 1682, he surely had envisioned it to be home for generations and generations to come. Yet I don’t think he had in his mind an exceptionally ambitious spirit from Morocco – the first nation to recognize the United States of America as an independent state in 1777. The spruce, apple tree, and walnut, after which are named major streets in Philadelphia – safely lead my way around the city, just as they led my path and fed me during my Middle Atlas childhood.

For the unskilled navigator that I am, who has never lived in a city as big as Philadelphia before, learning how to get around was one of my top concerns. Therefore, my plan for the first few days was to meticulously explore the city’s transit system, neighborhoods, parks, and attraction sites. Unsurprisingly, missing a subway stop or getting off the bus one stop before reaching destination were common occurrences. I was very open to pretty much going anywhere just for the sake of exploring and discovering, which enabled me to see new neighborhoods and admire my new home in many ways.

Along with colleagues, I visited various places in south, west, and east of Philly before we stumbled upon what we were dying to find: a decent permanent shared apartment in a recently opened student housing compound within steps of the campuses of Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania. My incessant search, employing social media, Craigslist, and even real estate agents, had finally paid off! Despite the high cost of living in Philadelphia, given the small stipend allotted to Atlas Corps fellows, I am excited to call one of the most peaceful areas of the city, which is also a great spot to interact with Drexel and University of Pennsylvania students every single day, my new home. Furthermore, the compound in question offers a variety of leisure services such as a shared area and a gym.

It has been a very exciting couple of weeks so far, and I know the most exciting is yet to come. My new Atlas seems more promising that I could have imagined! Stay tuned as I will be elaborating upon other experiences in upcoming blog pieces.