I grew up in a small town about 30 minutes outside of Philadelphia, a town similar to Carlisle. Although I have traveled outside of the country for small vacations, I have never lived in a foreign place for a prolonged period of time. I had very little knowledge of Sharjah before I learned of this exchange program we were doing. I believe the benefits of a program like this are vast, and exercises as simple as learning about each other’s homes can be extremely informative. It can be surprising to find that someone who lives halfway around the world from you is not all that different.
Meeting with the students from the University of Sharjah certainly highlighted the relative differences and similarities between our respective “homes.” My group only had one student from the University of Sharjah (her name is Maya too!) , but there was also considerable differences amongst my two Dickinson peers in our discussions about the physical nature of the places we named as home on the shared padlet as well. One of the first thing me and my group discussed was the temperature difference between here and the United Arab Emirates because I was complaining about how hot and humid the weather was here on Tuesday. We were shocked when Maya mentioned that their coolest point during the day was around 30 degrees celsius (around 90 degrees fahrenheit), and at the hottest points of the day hovered around 50 degrees celsius (around 120 degrees fahrenheit). Although discussing climate may seem trivial, my group members and I only had a somewhat general idea of what environment Sharjah was like, and actually hearing those numbers was eye-opening.
Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
My group then discussed the differences between our respective universities because it has become sort of a second home, at least for me. The University of Sharjah is located in the city of Sharjah, which happens to be the third largest city in the United Arab Emirates. Carlisle, however, is a small town in the middle of a fairly rural part of Pennsylvania. Sharjah’s population hovers around 1.2 million people, and Carlisle’s population is somewhere around 20,000 people. For many of us at Dickinson, unless you are initially from a large city, it can be hard to imagine going to college in a large city like that of Sharjah. Regardless, we are all university students taking a course on international relations, and much of the work we will be doing this semester will be similar.
When discussing what places felt most like home to us, 3/4 people in my group initially chose a place where we didn’t actually grow up. For me, it is a small town in Connecticut where my Dad’s family would come together for every major holiday. For one person in my group who is from New Hampshire, it was a mountain in Tennessee where she spent a lot of time with her grandparents and other family members. For Maya, it is Egypt, where most of her family lives and a place where she lived for a time during her childhood. One person in my group did put her current place of residence down as the place she considered home, but when we were discussing this in our group, she expressed that she contemplated putting Honduras instead- the country her parents immigrated from. There is certainly a pattern, something we all considered when asking ourselves where we felt most at home, our family. Now, this does not necessarily mean family in the traditional or immediate sense, sometimes it’s just as simple as a feeling. On a larger scale, thinking about the differences between the physical nature of our respective homes (like weather or population) seem vast, but our definitions of what home means to us are strikingly similar. Even though every person in my group grew up in a different place on this Earth, we shared a core commonality.