Growing up in Chicago kept me under the illusion that nothing else existed beyond the boundaries of Illinois. Call me ignorant, call me clueless, call me typical. I can still remember the rush of emotions when informed that we would be living in the Middle East. Even my parents spoke of this place with uncertainty. At times I wanted to cry, to yell, or to be left in solitude. My worst fear, however, was having to leave the people I practically grew up with. For the first time in my life, I was plunged into a world of unpredictability and it no longer consisted of familiar faces or places. Little did I know that this departure was ultimately for my own good.
My fated move to the Middle East led me to believe that living abroad enables us to embrace the beauty of diversity.
Leading a life as an expatriate for almost eight years of my life has removed some of the naiveté of my adolescent self. It provided innumerable opportunities to learn and understand the distinct cultures which surrounded me, and I thirst for more. During our Tuesday assemblies in high school, students walked around desperately selling mana’eesh (pita bread stuffed with cheese) rather than candy bars, and the school cafeteria served biryani and shawarma rather than Jell-O and hamburgers. Discussion about the Middle East crisis during our lunch periods was not unusual as well.
Now, as I recollect the fine desert sands and pearly white minarets I think about the ability for human beings to adapt to various environments.
I have also witnessed the harsh reality of poverty. As I watched an 8-year-old child hopelessly sell stale cotton candy on a side street, my eyes welled up with tears. I remember handing out plates of rice and chicken kebab to eager laborers during the month of Ramadan, their grateful smiles reinforced my obligation to put these people at ease whenever possible. It is a constant reminder that every nation, regardless of their façade of wealth, has poverty. I believe we can come to realize this when living abroad. I believe the ailment of ignorance and cultural intolerance can only be cured through exploring this expansive world.
Upon my return to Illinois, I am surrounded by buildings made of concrete and brick instead of the immaculate arabesque monuments. Pine trees replace palm and a feeling of unease hits the pit of my stomach. I am a foreigner in my own country.
But college begins and I experience an epiphany, an epiphany that occurs in my 9 a.m. philosophy class. I quickly scan the auditorium and witness a collage of ethnic backgrounds, Indian, Chinese, Hispanic.
All were scrutinizing the same texts and all were equal in the eyes of the professor. A paradox, different yet the same. Diversity was not only found abroad but also in my own home.
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