Bridging the cultural gap between the Egypt and the United States was an easy step for the 34 students participating in the Egyptian-American Dialogue tonight. The group was split between 16 Egyptians and 18 TWC students, who varied in nationality and in backgrounds.
We started the dialogue off with a more than 40 minute discussion on “The Gaza War and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” It was an interesting talk as you can imagine when people are giving their opinions on war. The Egyptian students were very much againt Israel’s actions thus far in blockading the borders and firing back on Gaza Strip. One Egyptian student was so prepared- he had this huge map to point out the different countries.It was, however, interesting to note that while he was quick to have the exact number of Palestinians that died in the 6-day war, he did not remember the 13 Israelis that died as well. While this number is not as high as the near 1,300 Palestinians, it is still important because there would have been more if the weapons being fired out of the Gaza Strip were of a better quality.
It was hard to switch topics, but we did manage to discuss “The Obama Administration and U.S. Relations with the Arab and Muslim World,” as well as “Correcting Negative Stereotypes between Americans and Arabs and Muslims. The Egyptians were basically together in that they felt that Obama and the United States should be involved in correcting the problems in the Middle East and my roommate, Ever, gave by far my favorite answer on the topic. Ever said, that while the U.S. President should try to help correct the situation as much as possible, his real duty is to his constituency and to doing what is best for them. She reminded us all that at the end of the day-he has to take care of his country’s needs first.
The topic was a great opener into our last topic, which was negative stereotypes. The TWC students started the discussion by saying one of the main stereotypes was that citizens of the Middle East hated the West, especially the United States. It was comforting to know that while the Egyptians were initially afraid to find mean and cold Americans upon their arrival, this did not happen. They said the welcome was great, and everyone friendly-they loved it.
I followed another TWC intern in expressing how to correct the negative sterotypes (and yes, I did speak up earlier in the debate when discussing the Israel/Palestinian Conflict). I said that each country should take a pro-active stance in helping other countries understand their customs and lifestyle, such as Arkansas State’s endowment by the Saudi Government for students/faculty wanting to study and/or research in the Middle East.
It is funny now to think of how difficult it was after the dialogue for the moderator and program advisers to get all of us students out of The Washington Center and on our way to dinner. After the dialogue was over, the Egyptian and TWC students took a picture together and then started talking more indepth about our view-something we were not able to do during the dialogue.
The 16 Egyptians, who are all college students at etiher Cairo University or Alexandria University, are currently in D.C. through a grant from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and touring/interning through the American Council of Young Political Leaders. They found out where they would be interning at for the next 6 days at dinner. My other roommate Caylah and I ate dinner with a one girl interning with John Kerry. To say she was excited is an understatement. She is studying American government, and has portrayed Kerry’s role in government in class mock exercises.
It was also fascinating to listen to the girls speak about shopping. One girl said all she wanted to do was shop, which they have not had time for. Apparently, Egypt only has select jean sizes which are all too large for her. While in D.C., she was determined to buy a lot of jeans to bring home with her. It was an odd experience-I never thought to hear that a country did not carry select sizes and that she was too tiny for them. I mean, she was about a size 3-6.Another great thing at dinner was the fact that I finally handed out some of my new businesses cards! Yay.
In all, the Egyptian-American dialogue was a worthwhile experience that I am glad I participated in. I did learn more about the Egyptian students and their culture during our walk to the restaurant and dinner. We have more in common than I thought and I definitely would love to go to Egypt now. The dialogue was also helpful in that it helped me work toward my personal goal of being able to announce my opinions to people and being able to defend them. I spoke twice before the crowd, and was treated with common courtesy and interest.
The dialogue was great in the fact that while we all did not agree at times, we were able to share our opinions calmly and rationally and we treated each other with respect. I would definitly not mind attending a dialogue like this again.