Summer Camp Series: Cultural Encounters

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Understanding a culture different from your own is an almost inhuman task, requiring a complete alienation from the attitudes, motivations, ideas, and ways of life which since birth your own culture has ingrained into your very soul. This week I have been shocked and amazed time and time again, having met more people from foreign countries and learning about their culture than in the past few years. Reading books or articles, or watching movies, about other places is nothing in comparison to meeting an actual person from these, and befriending them.

Much of my experience has been Egypt so far here, the camp having three Egyptians and one of them being my roommate. They speak perfect English with remarkable American accents, and can even imitate Chicago slang or a southern drawl. My stereotypical idea of Egypt being pharaohs, the Nile, and in the modern day, revolutions, they have taught me more about actual Egyptian culture than any textbook. I have learned about the presence of American culture in relation with Egypt, how much the two are both like and unlike each other, and also much about Islam, to which around 85 percent of the population belongs. One Egyptian girl here in particular has taught me and a few other Americans about traditions, rules, customs, and similarities of Islam, all of which I never would have thought about living in my Washington DC bubble. The other two, one of which is my roommate, often are in our room late at night and during free time, discussing Egyptian culture, American culture, pop culture, religious culture, Facebook, music, girlfriends, movies, and all things about which three teenagers would naturally talk about. They are truly fascinating people, and the only thing I can regret about knowing them is that I do not have their phone numbers because of the cost of international texting.

There is also a girl from Denmark. Denmark. Think about it. When was the last time you heard about Denmark? Denmark does not have uprising, internationally invasions, bombings, new flashy presidents, or controversial policies. Yet trying to pronounce her seemingly simple name, singing happy birthday in Danish (which I did not even know they spoke there) to her, typing on her laptop with foreign letters and conversing with her over the lunch table has brought to light a very quiet country which I knew almost nothing about, and thought that a very quiet, and very sweet girl, like those from Egypt, she speaks great English, and underneath the country on her passport she is a normal girl with natural interests, and yet still wonderfully unique. Her culture has shaped her, and the Danish ways of life, like the Egyptians, are fascinating and relatable once you get to know them.

The other country most represented here is Mexico. There are two people from Mexico, and though just south of Texas might not be as foreign as the Middle East, they still both have major cultural differences, as well as similarities. They like many of the same singers and bands, but also have introduced me to a few Mexican celebrities as well. One of them is also a huge Taylor Swift fan, which I am as well. They have also given me an opportunity to practice my Spanish.

As well as these people who actually live in their countries, there are also some Americans who are originally from different countries as well, including Colombia, Taiwan, The Philippines and Canada. All these people, though living in the US, have brought out a few ideas from their other cultures too. This week has told me more about foreign societies than the internet even could have done. There are truly amazing people.

By Jack Ferguson, a WYA member and International Summer Camp participant from Maryland