Well, now that I’m officially on winter break, paused from my travels, and prepping for next semester, I wanted to do some better reflection on my four months here thus far. I feel like I’ve been writing everything down pretty darn well, but not taking that extra step to see what I learned from the situations I’ve been in in Egypt and in nearby countries. I broke it into 6 categories.
With my parents, leaving for Egypt
Before coming here, I had literally no idea what to expect. While I was in India last year, learning Hindi, I felt if I could learn another culture’s language, why couldn’t I learn my own? Then, Egypt popped into my mind, and I worked the whole year to make it happen. It was just a thought in my brain, and now it has become the most meaningful experience in my life. I was hoping to get really good in Arabic, hang out with only Egyptians, and become immersed in the culture. I heard that, at AUC, it would be extremely difficult to meet Egyptian students, so I was extremely worried about how I would meet locals.
The main reason I was able to was due to Couch Surfing. That website has drastically changed my experience- I’ve met my best friends here from it! USE COUCHSURFING! Haha. I also was expecting to be roughing it up way more, like my life in India. At AUC and at the dorms, I was treated like a goddess. It was seriously like a hotel, with housekeeping and reception and everything. I needed to get out, and that is why I am currently living in an apartment in Dokki, a much more local part of Cairo.
Landing in Cairo.
2. Learned/Confirmed About Myself:
-Meeting people. I’ve realized how much importance I place on meeting new people in my life. Often times, while learning about new people and their stories, I’ve realized that I am in a state of complete and utter contentment. This is how I become so truly happy- being with others, learning their unique stories, culture, personality quirks, and histories. Everyone has such amazing and different experiences in their lives, I absolutely love hearing them.
-Learning languages. I always knew, even from 7th grade Spanish class, that I liked learning languages. Now, however, I really see why. While working in India last summer, I tried so hard to learn Hindi from the family I stayed with for two months. I knew I could get the basics of grammar and conversation, and knowing Hindi has dramatically changed my interactions with Indians I’ve met around the world. Relating to Arabic, I am seriously SO grateful to be here for a year. I have had time to become immersed. Though I’ve learned better grammar and all, the best part has been learning Egyptian slang and understanding cultural references. Even while in Turkey for four days, getting even basic phrases made a huge difference when meeting Turkish people. I need to learn so many more languages! I think I am going to take Korean when I get back to Northwestern.
Staying with Ethar the first few days in Cairo.
-My Future. Before coming to Egypt, I was set on living in Costa Rica after graduation. I loved the culture and the people (and the music!) so much, but Egypt has forever changed my heart. Everyone knows how much more I love it here than the U.S. I know that I could be in a 4-month honeymoon stage, and I’m not actually working and living the daily struggles here. But, honestly, I want to try it. I feel the most comfortable I’ve ever felt in my life- not the quirky, crazy girl in America, who needs to act “normal” and “chill” and passive towards everything. I have melted into Egyptian culture, with all its endless jokes, high emotions, and love for all people. I smile just thinking about it.
My love for this country was confirmed even more so while visiting Qatar, Dubai, and Turkey. I was missing life in Cairo so much. So yup, 5alas. I definitely need to live here. When I go back to Northwestern next year, I’m going to have to try really, really hard to not keep comparing my lives in the two places. I’m not sure how I will manage, to be completely honest, returning to family rules and school responsibilities. Alas, I’ll think about it when the time comes.
-Friendship. Now I truly, truly understand the infinite value of friendship. Even though I’ve been here for only four months, I have made some of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life. At Northwestern (being extremely real here), I feel like I have a group to party with, but not like deep, meaningful friendships, except for 2 or 3 people. During my time in Cairo, it has been WAY easier to make extremely strong relationships. My friends, both best friends and good friends, honestly care about how I am, and check up on me constantly. They don’t come to me only when they need something. I realize I really need to be a better friend- the individualistic, American culture, pressures at college, and my own maturing has eliminated my old habits of talking to people just to show I care. I am slowly trying to re-ignite it here, showing my gratefulness for my friends. I really, seriously need to keep it up when I get back as well. I just can’t believe how meaningful my experience has been here, mostly due to the friendships I’ve established.
-My Half-Palestinian Ethnicity & Religion. It’s been absolutely amazing to witness how happy and proud my father has become these past two years. I’m learning his language, foods, and culture, and I feel so grateful to be learning about my own heritage. Arab culture as a whole is so unbelievably rich, and I feel way more connected to it than ever before. I always felt like such the outsider with my at Middle Eastern weddings and talking to my cousins, who live in Saudi Arabia and Syria. I couldn’t speak in Arabic to them, and I could tell how ashamed my father felt for not teaching me. I took it upon myself, after realizing so much more in college about my identity, to learn Arabic and immerse myself in the Middle East. Even though I’ve definitely turned more Egyptian than Palestinian, I can’t describe how happy I am to have learned so much. I would die to go to Palestine and visit my father’s home, but I don’t think I’ll be able to during my stay here.
Visiting the pyramids for the first time.
While here, I’ve also had multiple conversations about Islam, and religion in general. Though many Muslims I’ve talked to are extremely knowledgeable and convincing in their logic for being Muslim, it’s just not sticking for me. I’ve been raised with a strong foundation and very important values. Though I don’t know what happens after we die, or even why we die, I still am not sure that we can ever know. Nonetheless, Muslim Egyptians seem to be intensely aware of the exact reasons why they are Muslim, and i admire that greatly.
-My View on Life. Making my dream of studying in Egypt for the year reality has made me realize just how much potential I have to really go for my ambitions. In the lovely Northwestern bubble, I was constantly feeling so inferior to others. I didn’t realize how much the pressure to be on the most exec boards, get the best grades, and be an all-around superstar was negatively affecting me. I have been set free while here, just one person out of many walking down the chaotic streets of Cairo. Who cares if I am not the smartest and most “successful”, whatever that means? Is that really the meaning of my life? How do I define my own success? Though I know I could push myself to be the absolute best and most successful, life will definitely not be over if I don’t end up working in children’s television after all. As long as I keep learning new things every day, meeting fascinating people, and using my own skills to benefit the lives of others in some way, I will be content.
Going to Ras Shetan
I honestly thought Egypt would overlap with places I went in India, but as soon as I got out of the airport, I was immediately proven wrong. It was literally all sand, and the absolute chaos of India was definitely not present. Cairo is pretty darn nuts, but India was just straight up a different world. Even though I absolutely loved India as well, I feel way more comfortable in Egypt. I didn’t realize how many things were unique specifically to Egypt. The country has its own food, music, slang, and it’s literally like nowhere else in the Arab world. I had no idea Egyptians were such big jokesters- I love it! They can be great friends and laughing like siblings in less than 1 minute. I’ve never witnessed anything like it in my life, in any of my travels. I also love seeing guys linking arms and holding hands while walking in the street and hanging out. My dad said he used to do that with his Arab friends in America, but my mom told him to stop. I find that so sad, how American culture labels it as homosexuality automatically.
Egypt, the country itself, is ridiculously diverse! It has literally every landscape- mountains, beaches, desert, everything! I remember the first time I went to Ras Shetan, I couldn’t believe we were still in Egypt. Looking out the window, it was like were were in the middle of the Rocky Moutains. I have also learned about proper etiquette for paying (just keep saying no when they insist, 30% of the time it will work), visiting people’s homes, and just dealing with others. I was expecting the unbelievable hospitality before arriving, and it’s definitely present, maybe even more than I expected.
Also, it seems that most Egyptians have the same definitions of knowledge and success. If someone is studying engineer, it automatically makes them superior and smarter than everyone.They have a different education system, where they take a ridiculously hard placement test in high school that decides which career track they’re smart enough for. If they go into engineering because they did well on the test, I understand their reasoning, but if something else is their passion, I would say to go for it. However, here, there are major obstacles even to just follow that passion. Things like mandatory military service, ridiculous amounts of money needed, and difficulties to obtain visas seem to be major setbacks to the ability of my Egyptian friends to actually achieve their goals.
Another thing I’ve really noticed is how foreigners are treated like gods here. Sometimes, I really wish I could feel the true Egyptian experience, to see if it’s as cutthroat as I’ve heard. It seems like all Egyptians just want to leave to America/Canada/Europe/etc. I have only met a few who want to stay in Egypt to improve their communities. Some just want to leave to make money for a while, and then return to settle down. Of course, I understand the better opportunities and salaries outside of Egypt, but it’s still just so hard for me to digest, seeing as I have such a strong belief to making a positive impact on your own home too. Alas, I’m not necessarily aiming to improving my own suburb, either, in America.
Lastly, I had no idea that Egyptians would love dancing so much!! Haha, seriously, dance parties can start anywhere at anytime. My paradise! Of course, there is also the other point of the obviously inequality between women and men here, but this is something that, as a foreigner here for only a year, I don’t feel like I can condemn and comment on deeply. I absolutely hate that girls can’t stay out as late, walk alone without stares, and are thought of as less powerful, but I can say that I’ve seen way more exceptions than I was expecting.
Our crazy trip to Dubai.
As you might have noticed, this has been literally the craziest year of my life. I traveled to Dubai with a person I never met, planned trips only hours in advance, and been much more willing to say yes to new experiences than ever before. I NEED TO EXPLORE LIKE THIS IN CHICAGO! It’s so difficult to stop living in the bubble of home and school, and there’s so much more to see, even within my own hometown. I am learning something new every day because I am taking advantage of every opportunity, which has allowed me to meet so many amazing people as well.
Meeting up with my elementary school friend in Turkey.
Where to begin. My view of relationships has always been the same since I started college. I wasn’t looking to start anything, seeing as I have so many goals I want to accomplish and priorities in my life, and, often times, relationships can hold people back. I don’t really want to get married because of this as well, and I feel like my life can be fulfilled with or without someone by my side. Nonetheless, there always seems to be exceptions. Now, even though I know I only have 5-7 months left, I think it’s still worth trying to be together with someone that I care so much about. I know that I hate feeling vulnerable, but I also realize I needed to stop fearing getting too close to someone. I know I am going to learn a lot more about myself, as well this topic in the months to come.
Habibi Nabil =]
6. Would I Have Changed Anything?
Of course, my main goal was to be speaking only Arabic every day, which was not really successful while living in the dorms. I feel like things will be changing, however, now that almost all my American AUC friends have left. I can definitely make better conversations now, and lately, I feel I haven’t been trying as hard to speak Arabic because it’s getting easier. That is definitely the wrong mentality, and I must keep studying and speaking! I think Arabic is pretty much the only thing. Of course, I would like to make more of an effort to just sit down at a restaurant and/or and talk to storekeepers, but the whole being-a-girl thing really makes me hesitant to be too friendly. I still don’t feel completely comfortable walking alone, especially at night. But I must say, I know I am learning to be more street savvy in this process as well.
Being with great company.
Now, goals for 2013!
1. INTERNSHIP!! I seriously need to figure out if I am actually interested in the television industry or not. During my break (I go back to school January 30th!), I will get in touch with all the contacts I was connected with in Qatar. I want to try to get something at a production studio, also something I could extend for the summer as well. I want to talk to the woman from 18 days in Egypt, the CEO of an edutainment company in Cairo, the producer for Sesame Street in Egypt, professors from AUC, and look more into Undergraduate Research Grants from Northwestern.
2. SUMMER: I must, must, MUST stay here for the summer. Where it be doing research, interning, working, or volunteering and finding odd jobs to get money, I must stay!! MUST.
3. ARABIC: I am now living in an apartment, so there is literally NO excuse to be speaking in English. I MUST STOP! Maybe I’ll start writing blog posts in Arabic. Hehe, about that…
4. FULBRIGHT: Getting a Fulbright to research something would be the perfect avenue to get back here after graduation. I also would love to study something specifically related to cultural differences in children’s television and its effects on their learning. Northwestern is amazing for helping apply, so I have to start thinking about it in March.
5. TRAVELS: I still must go to Sharm El-Sheikh, Luxor and Aswan, Alexandria, Siwa, Upper Egypt, the Black and White desert, Hurghada, Marsa Matroh, Jordan, and maybe Beirut! Oh, and Palestine…sigh, if only.
6. VIDEOS: I really want to start recording more!!! I love making videos, but I think it’s because I only have my point n’shoot that I am not feeling so motivated to create videos. I must make time to film and edit, because there is so many amazing things in Cairo to record! I will make one covering all of first semester!
I know it’s going to seem overboard to say it, but this has literally been the best year of my life (of what I can remember, maybe age 2 was bliss as well) because of Egypt. I’ve never felt so exhilarated, cared for, and part of this world. I really, really never want it to end. Here’s to 2013!