Learning through Inter-Cultural Experiences: An Arab American Who Opened My Eyes
I remember flying to England in December of 2001, on a plane from the San Francisco airport. I was seated next to an Arab male by the name of Syeed. From the first few words we had he seemed to be an open person willing to share his experiences with me and listen to mine. This made him really easy to talk to and before I know it we were on an in depth conversation about the views of Arabs after the events of September 11th, 2001. He told me that he felt as if he was constantly being watched, in more ways then one. He said that while he felt some people were watching him with an "evil eye", most people just seemed interested and curious to know more about his culture. He said, much like I did, they'd ask him questions about his religion, his customs, and his culture. There was an article I read recently that described this boom of interest by the American people in the Arab.
- Talk to the locals
- Ask questions about the culture
- Eat the food
- Stay in historical hotels
In the article, "The Voices of Arab Culture..." the author states, "... in the United States, a new wave of Arab writers has since established residence in publishing and academic circles..." (1). This is an example of just how the Arabs are making their presence in all areas of the American culture clear and how ready the American public is to hear of their experiences. Clearly at the rate in which the Arab American culture is spreading through America, it will become harder and harder to not experience some of it for yourself, in some form. Surely there must be some benefits to experiencing other cultures to all of us.
Recently, there has been a lot of focus in the media on the Arab culture as a result of the current events pertaining to Iraq. The Arabs and Arab-Americans contribute much to our society and exposing people, especially the youth, to different cultures will do them a great deal of service in many aspects of their life. This recent boom in the prominence of Arab culture in America has even been called a "golden age for Arabic culture." This show us that the Arabic people are not feeling oppressed by the recent events involving the Middle East, but rather more able than ever to express themselves.
As a child I was never exposed to many different cultures. I grew up in a neighborhood that didn't have a single obviously foreign person in it and went to an elementary school that was about the same. By the time I reached high school, I had an undeniable urge to travel. Once I did start to do some traveling on my own it quickly became apparent to me that there was an undeniable urge in me to learn about other cultures and other peoples' points of view. As I traveled more and more it became very important for me to experience new cultures for many reasons. One thing I gained was that I became aware of many different points of views on any number of subjects. This included anything from politics to law to foreign countries' affairs. I learned that most people have a similar set of moral codes and it's good to stick by those. Can this experience really be considered to be not useful for all of us to learn? I believe that like me, many people have an inherent need to learn about other people's lives. It's what really humbles us and lets us see how small our view of the world really is.
By these experiences while traveling, I couldn't help but to learn from being out in the real world and being exposed to other cultures. The article, "Learning in the Key of Life" by Jon Spayde, the author asks "What should it mean to be educated?" (58). He argues that life experience largely affects how educated someone becomes which is exactly the conclusion I came to one summer day while I was hiking alone in the hills. That day I was reflecting about the travels I had done and by merely doing that, I felt I gained a lot of valuable knowledge about myself, others, and the world in general. At that point I came to the same conclusion Spayde did about education: That education is most valuable when gained on your own and outside the classroom. Education is simply the act of learning what you didn't know before and I believe is gained easier through personal experiences and interacting with other people.
Syeed taught me a lot on that plane trip. Sure he described his people, his experiences, and his culture but I learned something even more meaningful from him. I learned that to be truly educated you must see the world not just through your eyes, but through others. What experiences will you have in your life? Will you settle for what you know now, or will you get out there, travel, and see the different cultures this world has to offer? I suggest you read a book about an area or a culture you'd like to visit. Start there, and it'll get your mind thinking and imagining what could be. Soon doors will open and you'll be out on the road less traveled.
Spayde, Jon. "Learning in the Key of Life." Andrea A. Lunsford and John J. Ruszkiewicz. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000. 58-63
Curiel, Jonathan. "The Voices of Arab Culture." San Francisco Cronical.