As a student of Arab descent, the Middle East has always been not only an interest but also a part of my culture and identity, yet I have never been there myself. In fact, not a single member of my family has returned since my paternal grandparents left Bethlehem in 1947. It was during the fighting that brought about the creation of Israel that my family departed the Holy Land.
I attended a Jewish preschool in California, and my family is in fact Christian, not Muslim. My upbringing and past are in many ways similar to the region and people of the Middle East – surprising, intriguing and the opposite of what stereotypes tell us.
As August turns to September, we’re all asking ourselves, once again, where has summer gone? I don’t know about you, but my summer has gone a lot of places. Some would say a summer like mine is enough excitement for a year – I’ve gone from Spain to Morocco to Greece to Portugal, studying and backpacking all the way.
But for me, as another summer ends, I find myself wondering what else is out there besides Europe. Traveling has opened my eyes. Since my first solo tour of Europe after my high school graduation, to this summer, I have always believed as St. Augustine so eloquently said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read merely a page.” I’ll add that those who do not travel outside Europe skip a lot of chapters.
Like a great deal of GW undergrads, I will be spending the year studying abroad. For a year I will call Cairo and – the study abroad office’s permission pending – Beirut, Lebanon, home. The American University of Cairo and The American University of Beirut will be my Foggy Bottoms away from Foggy Bottom.
In light of this summer’s attacks in the Egyptian resort town Sharm al-Sheik, London and Turkey and continued assassination bombings in Lebanon, many have told me that I am crazy for going to the Middle East. The words themselves have become taboo; the different and drastically unique countries that make up the Middle East have, in the minds of many, merged into one large bastion of repression and terror.
But as British Prime Minister Tony Blair explained to the world after the attacks on London’s subway: to give in to terror is to admit defeat. Unfortunately, the world is no longer the same as it was 20 years ago. It is a sad reality, but a reality that won’t deter me from living my life my own way.
For me, this summer has meant a lot of thinking about college and what the college experience is all about. I’ve spent a great deal of my time at GW reading – textbooks, newspapers, and – during those rare moments when time permits – novels. The books that have taught me the most about life are those about the world.
So, I invite you to read along with me, and perhaps see something about a region and a people you have not seen or read before. Read what the life of a study abroad student in the Middle East entails. Laugh a little, but most importantly peer over my shoulder as I open a new book.
-The writer is a junior majoring in international affairs. His columns about life in the Middle East will appear in The Hatchet’s features section every other week.