In the United States, the people who tend to be treated more as “outsiders” through the law or by social treatment are immigrants and refugees, members of the LGBTQ+ community, racial and religious minorities, people with disabilities, single parents, low-income communities, and the elderly. In my college more specifically, the “outsider” dynamic may show up when viewing international students, LGBTQ+ individuals, those of a different race or religion, or members of a political party or social movement. They are each commonly seen as a monolith instead of individuals. Oftentimes one may assume they all feel the same about a topic, not acknowledging the great diversity of viewpoints within a single group. Our identities as humans are complex, and sometimes our different facets can overlap in contradictory ways. It’s easy to assume anyone who is a racial minority or LGBTQ+ will vote for the Democratic party or that someone from the rural south would vote for the Republican party, for example. But people’s reasons for their voting behavior are very complex.

On a greater scale, viewing other countries as monolithic “others” in world politics can lead to poorer policy decisions. When assuming how people in another country feel about things, we can ignore the complex factors that lead them to feeling how they do. A common identity that one thinks of when one thinks of residents of the Middle East is Islam. However, there are a great variety of sects within Islam, religious minorities in the Middle East, and other personality factors that lead to a more diverse Middle East than one might imagine. It is important to take a holistic view of a nation or region in dealings with them, or risk great misunderstandings. In previous U.S. dealings with Middle Eastern countries, there have been attempts to put in place governments that would benefit the United States, without fully considering the implications for the people in these countries. Generalizing people from another region can and has led to dehumanizing and discrimination. It can be hard to find common ground with people one sees in a monolithic way.

For my entire life, I’ve lived in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. In contrast to many people’s descriptions of their hometowns, where I’m from lacks a strong sense of community. This is probably in part due to the rise of working mothers, but I also think it stems from “nomadic” lifestyles and people who work in international relations or the military and therefore move frequently. My family is one of only a handful of families that has lived in my neighborhood for the past 20+ years. My parents also both grew up in the D.C. suburbs, but in different towns. Our neighborhood is an area that spans only about a 15-minute walk. Most kids in the area, including me, attended the same elementary school right up the street, go to the same pool in the summer, and go to one of the churches or synagogues right in the area. People also used to frequent the beautiful nature trails, until they were shut down to build a rail system. These spaces are our few constants, but other than that, this area feels very transient. Washington, D.C., on the other hand, has been a constant for me my entire life. It has always been my favorite city and probably always will be. It has a global feel to it, since it is where all the foreign embassies are, and they are mostly designed using the architecture of their country. The rest of the city feels more European than a city like New York, since it has older, shorter buildings. There are, of course, many people from other countries, I think in part for foreign affairs purposes, but also regular immigrants. In D.C. and two neighboring cities in northern Virginia, Arlington and Alexandria, there are lots of different foods from all around the globe. Growing up near D.C. sparked my interest in other countries and how other people are similar to and different from me. 

Students from the American University in Sharjah spoke about the different countries that they each call home. At AUS, there are students from at least Pakistan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. I learned that the majority of residents (almost 90%!) of the United Arab Emirates are expatriates. The top countries that residents are from are India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. In contrast, only 13.6% of United States residents are foreign-born. Most people in the UAE practice Islam, while only 1.1% of the United States practice Islam– a big difference. 

Sharjah, as opposed to where I’ve lived, is quite large. The buildings are tall and beautiful, and they have beaches right nearby. English is the most widely-used language, but many people also speak Arabic or another language. Besides these cultural differences, life for these college students seems similar. One difference was of note: living situations. I am told that most students commute to and from school, with commute times of up to two hours. Dorms are reserved for study-abroad students or students where home is too far to simply commute.