I share Andrew Masondo’s (member of the African National Congress) sentiment of wanting to “Understand the differences; [and] act on the commonalities.” of different cultures. However, despite my attempts to combat my sheltered American ignorance, my lack of cultural knowledge is always humbling. My understanding of the Middle East is limited. So when I (and around 40 other students) were given the opportunity to engage in cultural exchange, it was much anticipated. Student from the States, United Arab Emirates, and those who’ve emigrated for university, gathered to try to better understand our similarities and differences. I spoke to two students from the UAE, and one from Vietnam. What surprised me most was the number of commonalities we had despite the differences in culture and location, which demonstrates the value in being able to meet peers from vastly different places to your own – it puts your life in a much more self-aware perspective relative to the world, which is essential as we become increasingly interconnected.

Ho Chi Mihn, Vietnam. https://www.lonelyplanet.com/articles/best-things-to-do-in-ho-chi-minh-city

I come from a small, old, American college town called Carlisle, Pennsylvania. While there were some general similarities, our hometowns differed by quite a bit. The student from Ho Chi Mihn, Vietnam, discussed her upbringings in Vietnam’s most populated city located near an international airport. While I also live near an airport, it is nowhere near the same size or number of destinations. The two students from the UAE also came from the most contrasting places in terms of size: Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, and Umm Al Quwain, the second-smallest city in the UAE. Both students loved their hometowns for its size and proximity to beautiful beaches, which they described as being where “the desert meets the sea”. In comparison to cities in the States, Carlisle is among the smaller towns and is probably analogous to Umm Al Quwain. However the UAE boarders the Persian Gulf, whereas I am a few hours from any body of water. In terms of racial diversity, The other obvious difference would be the ethnic makeup. The most diverse city within the group would be Ho Chi Mihn and Abu Dhabi, as they are big international metropolitan areas, much like large cities in the States. Carlisle on the other hand, like most US states, is majority domestic, with about 80% White citizens and about a 20% minority of Black and Hispanic people, among others. Surprisingly, it is more racially diverse than surrounding towns. My takeaway is that just in the relatively small UAE alone, there is such diversity in town size and ethnicity, and that metropolitan cities attract internationals anywhere.

Carlisle, PA, the US. https://www.travellens.co/best-things-to-do-in-carlisle-pa/ 

Climate is also quite different in each region. The UAE’s summers are nothing I have ever experienced. With high humidity and temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit in winter and exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit in summer, one student mentioned that what activities that are usually done in Summer in the States they do in the winter. This is in great contrast to the student from Ho Chi Mihn, where it’s also usually humid and rarely gets snow, but is much more temperate ranging in the 80s or 90s in summer. Ho Chi Mihn’s climate is much like Carlisle’s.


Umm Al Quwain, the UAE https://www.britannica.com/place/Umm-al-Qaywayn-emirate

Overall, in the little time we had, we couldn’t really get into depth about our life experiences. However, even in such brevity, I gained a sense of connectedness of the students in the UAE. America does a poor job educating about different cultures. The result of this is often a stereotyped version of people even in our own neighborhoods, let alone understanding the diversity in other countries. One must actively search for opportunities to learn about other nations, because how often does one see culturally accurate representations? This is where we must take advantage of our interconnectedness. While standard for developed nations, the technology to be able to speak to anyone from anywhere in the world is incredibly taken for granted and underutilized. I think we should use such technological advancements to expose ourselves to life in different nations and cultures, because maybe then the fear of those different to us will be challenged, and our commonalities bring us together.


3 Comments so far

  1.    Asal Fakhridinova on September 9, 2023 10:06 am

    Hello, thank you for this blog! I highly agree with your point in regards to America not educating us well enough about different cultures. As someone that has immigrated to America and lived there for majority of her life, I have seen various false stereotypes created about my own culture that was completely out of touch with the truth. Despite America being the land of immigrants and a melting pot of diverse people, it fails to implement opportunities to learn about different cultures in our school system, misleading students from the truth. What is one way, you believe, American schools can do to fix this problem?

  2.    Maya Ramah on September 9, 2023 7:43 pm

    Hi Taytum! I really enjoyed your piece on the cultural and geographic differences between the three countries. I can see you have learned a lot from the 10 minute conversation and I have learned a thing or two about the UAE from your blog, which is quite ironic since I’ve lived here my whole life. You mentioned how accurate can certain representations can be and how that is affected by education. I think that education does play a big role in how we perceive the world especially countries that are on the other side of the globe, and if not given accurate information, our perceptions may be skewed. The UAE for sure is a very diverse place and because of that we are faced with so many different ethnicities everyday, which may not be the case for the US or Vietnam.

  3.    trinhth on September 10, 2023 1:44 am

    Hello Taytum! It’s me. Thank you for this wonderful post. And I am really happy because you have searched more about Vietnam after the Zoom meeting as we did not have enough time to go deeper into the topic. I agree that we all have connections and similarities despite so many differences. I also think education is really important because I have the same lack of knowledge when it comes to The Middle East. However, I believe studying here in Carlisle and attending this virtual exchange course will help me broaden my mind and understand more the diversities. I think I will visit The UAE in the future. Will you Taytum?

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