East? Meet West.
CMC participates in cultural exchange with Kuwait
During Spring Break 2011, the University of Kuwait invited CMC Arabic Professor Bassam Frangieh and CMC History Professor Lisa Cody to lead 22 CMC students to Kuwait as the first half of an international educational exchange. The University of Kuwait covered all the students’ expenses, such as accommodations, meals, travel, and activities. For a reciprocal visit, CMC invited 20 Kuwaiti students and six faculty members to visit CMC in late January 2012. Aleta Wenger, CMC Director for International Programs, and Professor Bassam Frangieh, coordinated and organized the delegation’s schedule, on and off campus activities, as well as lodging and travel arrangements.
In interviews with the Port Side, participants of both programs recounted their stories of cultural differences, stereotypes, and inner-change.
On Kuwait, Modernity, and Moos-lems
A dual major in Economics and International Relations, Nick Rowe CMC ‘13 said he traveled to Kuwait “not to learn the language [Arabic] but because I haven’t been to the Middle East. It’s important to learn the perspectives of different cultures and traditions in order to formulate a worldview of this melting pot.” He perceived Kuwait as being wealthy, having an oil-focused industry and conservative Muslim society. These impressions were all verified. However, on a deeper-level, places like the Dewaniya (a hangout where men and women gather to drink coffee or smoke Hookah) showed that Kuwait was not as restrictive as Rowe supposed. In fact, Kuwait was welcoming in a unique way. Rowe said, “I was shocked because their communication level was quite fluent. They spoke eloquent English, an aspect which really spoke to me.”
Rowe’s only disappointment was that the Kuwaiti lifestyle focused primarily on commercialism and materialism. Because of this, he would not consider Kuwait as a place for long-term living. Rather, he found it more suitable for tourism, work, and education.
Ian Gulliver CMC ‘14 shared Rowe’s disappointment: “I wish the program directors would show us more Kuwaiti artifacts and culture. Instead, they insisted that we would enjoy our time in the malls shopping just like them. They loved the idea and brand of being American. However, we wanted to see what makes Kuwait, Kuwait. Their freedom of ideas and expression.”
Gulliver was also surprised by the social separation of men and women. He explained, “Even for international students, it was hard to break the social norm in Kuwait. If a student from China, for example, wants to stay out with friends after 9 p.m., he/she would have to petition such ‘privilege’ with his/her hometown embassy and go through endless paperwork.”
On the whole, the trip was a positive experience. Gulliver enjoyed visiting the Kuwaiti Gulf Oil Company, volleyball courts, a souq (market), and a desert tent, where he learned that showing the soles of one’s feet is deemed inappropriate due to uncleanliness. When asked if he had last words or advice for those who aspire to visit Kuwait, Gulliver said, “It was an eye-opening experience. I felt very welcome, as if I was one of them. No one looked down upon me, because to them, I was an equal. It taught me about the differences that make us unique but our passion for aspiring, dreaming, and achieving unites us.”
On Ame-ri-ka, Claremont Colleges & Hollywood
Rawan Al-Awadhi, Ghanimah Hamadah, and Latifah Al-Abbad, top Kuwaiti students in their fields, Civil Engineering, Law, and Dentistry respectively, thoroughly enjoyed the independence of America. Having lived in a country with restrictions on women, with laws preventing them from becoming judges and cultural conventions restricting their outings in public, being in America was a liberating experience.
Prior to their scheduled trip to Disneyland, the three women spoke with the Port Side and praised the atmosphere of positivity in the Claremont Colleges. Al-Awadhi said, “Here, you learn to know, learn to do, and learn to be yourself. I love how students are involved with different aspects of their lives, socially, academically, and spiritually. Even the smallest thing, like entrusting a student to gather our delegation at the airport, makes the student feel like an important individual. Whereas, in Kuwait we are required to study and go to college from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., leaving no room to explore ourselves or to act according to our reflection in independency.”
In terms of academics and personal growth, Hamadah agreed with the other students. “You could go for months and years and not find a thing that excites you. Here in the Claremont Colleges you are offered the opportunity to find that ‘thing’ that makes you want to wake up everyday with all the myriad classes and sport activities. Even if you hate studying, the communal, joyful, and hospitable feel here guides you to love learning among the people you admire.”
The students laughed when asked to share their favorite experience in America. They said that they enjoyed touring Hollywood Boulevard and seeing two men fighting on the street using American slang. To them this scene epitomized a Hollywood drama with all the glamour, glitz, and action. They saw their week in Southern California as a personal Hollywood movie.
Megan Peterson SCR ‘15, an Anthropology major, volunteered to help organize the Kuwaiti Delegation. “Seeing Claremont through the eyes of an outsider is really something special. Your manner of thinking and theirs are different. The way we act, eat, think, dress is distinctive. Our differences are the essence of our humanity,” said Peterson, who is taking an introductory course in Arabic with CMC Professor Ayman Ramadan. Peterson says that this experience was valuable in utilizing “my Arabic skills, igniting my passion to interact with people from other traditions, and offering my talents to them as a Scripps tour guide.”
When asked about her first impression of the students, Peterson laughed and said she was not sure who was more nervous. However, the interactions quickly became more comfortable. She was shocked by how articulately the students spoke English. “This week more than ever, I discovered the small differences between ‘classic’ America and a small Middle Eastern country. We differ with our clothing but share our love for movies, such as one Kuwaiti student’s love for Kill Bill. It’s funny, we wanted to share names too. In my Arabic class, we are given Arabic names, and similarly the Kuwaiti women wanted American names. I named one Ashley,” explained Peterson enthusiastically.
These interviews with Kuwaiti and Claremont Colleges students show that it is an enriching and inspiring experience to engage with peers across the globe. Though students were surprised by several cultural differences, they were even more shocked by the similarities. Students from the East and West both enjoy comparable trends in pop-culture, yet there are even deeper connections. Notably, independence and self-fulfillment are primary concerns for college students from America to Kuwait.