One of the most prominent differences I observed during the breakout rooms was the environment of where I live compared to the students in the UAE. Many of the AUS students talked about how hot and arid the UAE is. They specifically described how most people in the UAE travel during the summer in order to escape the heat. I noted how this was similar to people traveling during the winter in the US in order to escape the cold. One thing that resonated with me here was how similar our cultures are. In the UAE as in the US travel is used as a form of both escapism and learning. In my breakout room one of the students who was studying abroad talked about how his decision to study in Sharjah was so he could learn more about a culture he knew very little about. Another student talked about how she enjoyed travel because she loved to bring new things back with her and shared a scarf she had just purchased while traveling. Many discussed having to travel from a different county for school which I found very surprising. I thought it would be similar to the US in that most of the students were from the UAE. Instead there were multiple students from different counties like Jordan, Italy and even the US. This I found surprising as it isn’t as common in the US for students to attend a university in a different country for all four years.

Another common value I noticed in our discussions was that of family. One student shared a necklace that here grandmother gave her that she never takes off. One student talked about how she put an olive tree down for her pin because her family member grows olives in Jordan. Another student discussed how the biggest thing he missed about home was his mother’s cooking. The importance of family was very prominent in our discussions. Many talked about items given to them by grandparents or pets they had back home. One big discussion point was missing our families. It seems that this is a universal experience for all college students.

One difference that was discussed in length within my breakout room was how the US views Middle Eastern countries. We talked about how US citizens usually see Middle Eastern countries purely through the geopolitical lens. Many do not see them as individual countries but rather as the same geopolitical entity. We then discussed how this view can narrow down one’s opinion of the Middle East. We talked about how this view can be damaging as it only enforces western stereotypes of the region. People begin to look at countries for their strategic importance rather than its culture or history. This helped me see the danger of looking at the Middle East through the geopolitical lens.

In conclusion, I noticed significantly more similarities than differences in myself and the students at AUS. We all share similar values and our worldviews differ very little. One thing I did notice was that my expectations were shattered by the students at AUS. I did not expect so many students from different countries outside of the UAE. I also did not expect them to be so similar to me in values. This discussion showed me how little I actually know about the region and the people who live there. I learned that I need to start seeing the region outside of a geopolitical perspective and instead look at it from a cultural perspective. I look forward to learning more form the students at AUS and hope to teach them more about the US as well.

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