One of my friends has a friend who came to the US to study abroad for a year -- their third year of college. We recently spent some time together over dinner, and I had the opportunity to learn a lot about how different life is for a visiting student.
The visiting student’s name is Mo El Hakim, and he is 21 years old. He lives with his mother, father and two sisters in Cairo, Egypt and, he attends University at the American University in Cairo. Mo is the oldest of three siblings and, the first person in the family to have an opportunity to spend a year in America at UCLA while he earns college credit! His parents are very proud of him because they know that it takes a strong, mature person to be able to study abroad for a year. Mo’s parents believe that he left everything familiar to him to take advantage of this opportunity.
During our discussion at dinner I had the opportunity to ask Mo some questions so that I could learn about his experience while here and how he felt it was different from the University life that he had known in Cairo. We enjoyed a delightful Mexican meal together in Los Angeles, and Mo remarked that Mexican food reminded him of Egyptian food because the spices used to flavor the meats are quite similar. He also said that the use of a variety of beans was remarkably alike. But his favorite part of the Mexican meal was the soft, warm tortillas. He said they were reminiscent of the fresh Pita bread that he would get with his Fava bean dish called Ful Medames that he was missing very much.
It was now the month of March and Mo had been in the US since late August. He would be going back to Cairo in mid May, and he had mixed feelings about his return. I was surprised! I expected him to say that he was missing his parents and siblings and everything else that he had come to know and love for many years. Instead, he told me that while he did of course miss his family, he was anxious about his prospects for a job in Egypt when he returned and eventually graduated in his native land. While here studying, Mo had learned a lot about career opportunities in the US and wanted to explore them. He was hesitant to explore these potential jobs because even if he did get a job, he would have to leave his home country and move so many thousands of miles away from his family and friends. I had not ever been in a position of having to choose between my family or my future career, and it was eye opening for me to hear him describe the pros and cons of this difficult decision.
Mo said that he was homesick because he had been here for seven month. He did also tell me that he had made some new friends, and, this had helped him feel less lonely for his family and friends at home. I asked him how he spent his free time and he said that he really enjoyed the great weather and going to the beach. “Southern California”, he said, “reminds me of the weather that we have in Egypt. Little to no rain all year long and, plenty of sunshine. I have enjoyed my walks around the city and I have taken the bus to Santa Monica Beach. I like to sit in the park by the Santa Monica pier and listen to the musicians that bring their guitars and entertain people with their songs.” Then he chuckled and said, “some of those singers are very bad, and they don’t know how to play the guitar at all. It’s fun to listen to them fake their way for some money”. I enjoyed meeting Mo and learning from him. I could see the torment on his face when he spoke of the possibility of leaving his country so that he could have better career options. There was no hesitation on his part about his ability to get a great job in the
US – he had already told me that his English was good and that his accent was mostly overlooked by the people that he interacted with on a professional level. I could see that he felt it would be a high price to pay to leave his family and friends in Egypt so that he could have a thriving career in America.
Mo made me realize that people from other countries and other cultures have to make sacrifices in order to “fit” in with the country that they may want to immigrate to. I could see that there were some things that he found here that reminded him of the comforts of home: climate and food, for example. But in the end, he was a stranger in a strange landfar away from home.
Now that I know this, if I had to do this again, I would’ve had questions on my list that allowed me to learn how a tourist adapts to a foreign land and how they make this strange new place feel like home.
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://egypt.usembassy.gov/consular/niv4.html
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://mideastfood.about.com/od/maindishes/r/fulmedames.htm
(n.d.). Retrieved from http://ieo.ucla.edu/internationalstudents