Even though this is the second time I’ve participated in a virtual exchange program with students from Sharja, it was still a great experience today. As Americans, I think it’s sometimes easy to forget that an outside world exists outside of our own country. As we discussed in class last week, the United States is somewhat unique in that it’s citizens very much can just choose to ignore the outside world and the outside world will most likely not come knocking to remind us that it exists. In some ways, the turns the U.S. into a kind of socio-political bubble. It’s nice to be reminded every so often that the majority of the world’s population grew up in a different social environment with different baseline worldviews and perspectives.
The main thing that stood out to me about the people I interacted with at our intro session was the sheer variety of where people came from. Going into the meeting, before I looked at our Padlet page again, I was expecting the vast majority of the map pins to be located either in the United States, or immediate vicinity of the UAE. And, while there certainly was a significant number that were clustered in that area, I was also mildly surprised to see how spread out from each other some of the map pins were placed. I guess it goes to show that traveling outside of your own country is another part of life that is commonly different between the United States and other countries. Here in the U.S., a lot of people (myself included) don’t end up more than a couple hours drive away from their childhood home when they go off to college. My group’s conversation about time zone differences of more than four hours creating substantial obstacles for them to stay in touch with their families, a problem that I feel very lucky not to have.
Similar to this, but not identical was a conversation we had about considering multiple places to be home. Even though I’ve personally moved around a lot and even lived overseas for a time, I still consider Maryland to be my home to the exclusion of all other places. This is not a sentiment shared by the AUS students I talked to. For example, one student in my group was born in Karachi, Pakistan, moved to Boston at the age of six and has lived there ever since. She said that she still considers Karachi to be her home just as much as Boston despite not having lived in Karachi for over 13 years. That felt to me like if I were to still consider New Jersey to be my home since I lived there for about 5 years when I was just entering elementary school. It was an interesting dichotomy that I’d be interested to learn whether it was mostly representative of the world or if it was an outlier.
A final interesting factor that that I found to be less so surprising and more so something that I just hadn’t thought about very much before was the fact that there were a lot of students from AUS that said they preferred small towns to large cities. This was something that ended up being a pretty widely held similarity between the Dickinson Students and the AUS students. I’ve always thought of the ‘small town’ to be something that was somewhat unique (at least in how common they are) to the U.S., so it was nice to see that so many people from other countries shared both mine and my fellow Dickinsonians’ affinity for them.
Overall, I found our conversations with the students from AUS to be a good reminder of the U.S.’s place in the world and both the relative uniqueness of the environment I grew up with as well as some of the similarities it shares with others around the world. With my breakout group especially, it felt like despite any differences we had regarding where we grew up or our cultural backgrounds, we were still all people, specifically college-aged people, who are pretty easy to get to know and be friends with with fairly minimal effort.