For my entire life, I have grown up in the United States, primarily in the suburbs of Northern Virginia. When I was just two years old, my family moved from our home in Colorado to Virginia due to my father being relocated for work in the Air Force. Given the young age at which I moved, I have never considered Colorado to be my home. Home instead for me is Gainesville, Virginia, a suburban town roughly 30 miles from D.C.

Gainesville, in my opinion, is the perfect mix of city and rural lifestyle. If one was to drive roughly fifteen to twenty minutes east, you’d find skyscrapers, massive highways, and endless rush hour traffic. Whereas, if you drove the equal amount of time west, you’d instead find cows, corns and endless pastures. As an individual who dislikes the chaos of city life but also needs to have a Chick-Fil-A (and other food/shopping options) nearby, Gainesville provides a comfortable mix of the two realities.

While my family has established our roots in Gainesville, one of my family’s favorite activities to do together is travel. As children, my family primarily traveled domestically, visiting various National Parks and tourist attractions. However, in recent years, we have expanded our travels to include international, such as countries in South America and in the Caribbean. Travel has always played an essential role in my life, not only because it exposes me to new experiences and sights, but also teaches me about other cultures and lifestyles of individuals in other parts of the world.

Although I have traveled to and explored other states and nations, one region I have not yet explored is the Middle East. While my Arabic courses have exposed me to various cultures and nations within the Middle East, such as Jordan and Egypt, I have not had the opportunity to experience the region firsthand. Hence, I loved our interaction with the AUS students in Sharjah because it provided an opportunity to engage with university students from a different region of the world and to learn about their life experiences and interests and draw similarities and differences between the two cultures.

One similarity was our mutual love for travel. In our breakout room discussion, we each shared an object of significance with the group and explained why the object was important to us. In my breakout room, a few of us, including myself, showed pictures from a vacation or travel experience. One photo that particularly resonated with me was another individual’s visual of Venice. As she displayed her photograph for the group, she explained how her family and her often travel to Venice, and how Venice brings her peace and comfort. This statement stood out to me because I too, associate travel with peace. When I travel, I feel a peace of mind and comfort, because travel provides an opportunity to escape the chaos and responsibilities of everyday life and to be able to explore and experience new adventures for a period of time.

Another key similarity was the importance of family. As students engaged in the breakout room, it was clear how in both cultures, family is a central aspect in our respective lives. For one student’s significant item, she showed an heirloom from her grandmother – a cross necklace symbolic of her Catholicism background. Similarly, another student shared a coffee cup with her cat’s image imprinted on the side, and explained how her cat is important to her and her family. Furthermore, as we discussed our university experience, specifically our studies away from home, we each mentioned how we miss our families, especially our mother’s home-cooking. Through these conversations, the importance of family in each culture was depicted, as we each shared sentimental stories about experiences with family, favorite memories from home, and our love for home-cooked meals compared to meals provided by our respective cafeterias.

Furthermore, as we discussed our families, one girl mentioned how her family is considered a founding family in her town in Jordan. Unfamiliar with this concept, since it is not typical in my hometown for families to be classified as “founding families,” I was intrigued to learn that as a founding family, every street in her town is named after one of her family members. This idea is fascinating to me, as I imagine what it would be like to drive through Gainesville and see road signs with my name as well as my family members’ names on the signs rather than random names such as “Tall Timber” or “Raspberry.”

Overall, our initial conversations with the students of the AUS revealed many similarities but also a few differences between our cultures and respective lives. As an individual who loves to learn about other people and their experiences, I enjoyed these conversations because it shed light on how other university students in different regions of the world live and what their college experiences are like. With that said, I am eager for future interactions to further get to know the AUS students in Sharjah and interact with th


5 Comments so far

  1.    Rashid Basioni on February 6, 2024 2:47 pm

    Firstly, thank you for providing such a detailed, descriptive, and informative post on your social upbringing in the US. Additionally, it gave me a general outlook on your character as someone loyal and candid, especially since you mentioned your profound and emotional connection to your hometown in the suburbs of Northern Virginia. I share a sentiment similar to that of my hometown in Umm Al Quwain, a relatively small town in the United Arab Emirates. I believe our place of upbringing shapes much of our identity as we grow up. So, did your hometown have any imminent effect on your identity as you have grown up? If so, do you care to give any experiences in your early life growing up in the suburbs of Northern Virginia that changed your upbringing?

  2.    blackmac on February 18, 2024 6:15 pm

    Hi Rashid, thank you for your response to my blog. I’m glad parts of my blog post resonated with you, especially the part about how our place of upbringing shapes so much of our identity. I think one aspect of growing up in Northern Virginia that has changed my upbringing is the lifestyle. Given that I live 30 miles from Washington D.C., the capital of the United States, much of the culture surrounding my hometown area consists of politics, government, and fast-paced lifestyles. Many people I am close to, including my parents, work for the government, so it is interesting to see how our close proximity to the center of the U.S. government influences our everyday lives.

  3.    Will Moorman on February 7, 2024 8:08 pm

    Thank you for discussing your past so candidly. I personally have never moved, so to hear people talking about the experience of moving around as a kid has always interested me somewhat.

    I think that we share similar sentiments regarding our hometowns, that of intense love and respect, which is something I can appreciate in anyone. I enjoyed hearing the students from the AUS talking about their homes for much the same reason.

  4.    Griffin on February 12, 2024 3:27 pm

    It’s cool to see how your interest in traveling has shaped your perspective on the world. Traveling is not my favorite thing to do, but every new experience I gain is worth while. Similarily with the AUS students regarding their love for travel highlight the universal appeal of experiencing new cultures and environments. The similarities you found with AUS students, such as a mutual love for travel and the importance of family, highlight the universal aspects of the human experience regardless of cultural backgrounds.

  5.    Piotr Omelańczuk on March 29, 2024 8:30 pm

    Your narrative beautifully captures the essence of your upbringing, your experiences with travel, and the connections you made during your interaction with students from the American University of Sharjah (AUS). Here are some reflections and comments on your story:

    Sense of Home: Your description of Gainesville, Virginia, as a blend of urban and rural lifestyles paints a vivid picture of your hometown. It’s clear that despite having moved there at a young age, you’ve developed a strong sense of attachment to Gainesville, which you consider your true home.

    Travel Experiences: Your family’s passion for travel shines through in your narrative. Traveling domestically and internationally has not only provided you with new experiences and sights but has also enriched your understanding of different cultures and lifestyles. It’s evident that travel is an integral part of your identity and has contributed significantly to your personal growth.

    Interest in the Middle East: Your interest in exploring the Middle East, despite not having had the opportunity to visit the region yet, reflects your curiosity about diverse cultures and regions of the world. Your engagement with AUS students allowed you to gain insights into their lives and experiences, fostering a deeper understanding of the Middle Eastern culture.

    Shared Values and Experiences: The similarities you found with the AUS students, such as a mutual love for travel and the importance of family, highlight the universal aspects of human experiences transcending cultural differences. It’s heartwarming to see how these shared values and experiences brought you closer despite coming from different cultural backgrounds.

    Cultural Exchange: Your interaction with the AUS students exemplifies the power of cultural exchange in fostering empathy, understanding, and mutual respect. Through sharing personal stories and meaningful objects, you were able to forge connections and bridge cultural divides, highlighting the importance of cross-cultural communication and dialogue.

    Overall, your narrative eloquently portrays the intersection of your personal experiences, values, and aspirations, as well as the transformative impact of cultural exchange and travel on your worldview. It’s evident that these experiences have played a significant role in shaping your identity and outlook on life.

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