Elora Kilian is a 2012-2013 academic year student on AMIDEAST’s Area & Arabic Language Studies program in Cairo, Egypt. Hailing from St. Cloud Minnesota, Elora is a student of International Relations at American University in Washington, DC. In her reflection post below, she describes her shift in perception over the fall and hopes for her coming spring semester.
I find it difficult to look back at last semester and reflect on it as a separate section of my life. It was only two weeks into the semester when I knew I would not be leaving in four months. There was no way. I realized that quickly if I ever wanted to get anywhere with the language and really come to understand Egyptian culture, I would have to stay longer. This is the attitude I brought into the final reflection week. It was one of nonchalance, as I knew I had an entire additional semester for further personal growth and cultural and academic exploration.
Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with AMIDEAST staff to discuss the successes and shortcomings of how the reflection week was carried out. For me it was a nice opportunity to reflect on my own reflection. Upon being asked, it seemed absurd to me that reflection be crammed and compounded into one week at the end of the semester. How could I possibly think about four whole months of adventures, encounters, stories, personal growth and realizations, and derive meaning out of all of this?
I suddenly became very grateful for the blog I had kept throughout the semester. Though at times it seemed tedious when I did not have much to say, there were also times when I stopped everything to write about my most recent epiphany. Without this record I would never be able to return to each step of my journey and examine my perspective at the time. To me, this is the most effective reflection, looking back at how I have slowly changed overtime, and what I have learned.
When I look though my blog posts, I see a clear shift in my perceptions. At the start of the semester, many of my observations were external reporting the differences seen visibly. I discussed clothing, weather, garbage in the streets, lack of vegetation, the cats etc. Later my understandings became more behavioral, noting Egyptian hospitality, sexual harassment, the purveyance of religion, and perceptions of America and foreigners in general. At this point I even began to distinguish between the cultural patterns of not only Egyptians, but also the many different cultural groups within the city, such as the Ethiopians and the Sudanese. Then came the instance when my comprehension turned inwards, from not simply discovering a new culture, but also examining myself. I think this is most embodied in the page I added entitled “I Have Become”, with every sentence beginning as such. I began to consider my own identity, behavior, and values, and how these have shaped my experience and how the experience has shaped me. I began comparing who I am in Egypt, with who I am in America. I started discussing my hopes for the future. What do I want to do with my life? What is my purpose?
As one of my friends has said, I have gained my “C” legs, or my Cairo legs. The world that I once found so strange and confusing has become normal, and now that I am less distracted by the new and unusual wonders that surround me, I can focus on myself. This next semester will be less about visiting and viewing sights and attractions, and more about developing and crafting my own life in Cairo.
Immersing yourself in an entirely new culture allows you to examine your own culture from a removed perspective. Removing yourself from your daily life can do the same, and I continue to discover both what Egypt truly is, and who I really am.