Living overseas has enabled me to truly appreciate numerous cultures and customs from around the entire world. Growing up in five different Middle Eastern countries enabled me to see the world from a completely different perspective, in comparison to one born and raised in the United States. Fate picked me up and swept me across the Atlantic Ocean at the age of three to begin my childhood in various third-world countries, of which included Oman, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and finally Egypt. Entering my junior year in high school, my path through life hit a drastic road block. I was to be separated from my three best friends, and my family had decided to move back to the United States due to a health complication of one of my family members. The transition, which started off impossible, soon became smoother as the year went on, though the United States would never truly feel like home ever again.
My entire childhood was filled with memories of my friends holding every nationality imaginable. Therefore, through forming friendships with biracial kids, how could I ever feel any prejudices towards those closest to me, such as my best friends? Individuals are much more easily accepted in international schools, due to the worldly experiences of students attending them. Furthermore, every middle and high school has one common trait not commonly admitted to the public. In each surrounding, irregardless of the location, lie the popular cliques and groups one must try to fit into despite their previous reputations. Each time a family goes "country hopping" they are given a brand new chance to start over and recreate parts of their life from scratch. Through each move, families build strong ties because everything around them is foreign except each other. Some may look at the opportunity in a positive way to make new friends; however, each move requires the separation of valuable lifetime bonds strengthened through unforgettable friendship.
After spending a particular number of years in a designated country, one slowly begins to adopt the language and culture of the people. On a typical day to work, my father would call out "Habibi!" (My friend) only to get a response back from our friend, Magdy, the most popular community taxi driver Ah Habibi! Kafhalik"?(My friend! how are u?) Both my father and Magdy looked forward to their interaction every morning; which put a smile of understanding across my face as I snapped one final picture of the two of them in front of his worn-down taxi before packing up to leave the fertile Nile Delta. I even became accustomed to the Egyptian "garbage man;" which in reality, consisted of a young boy riding a filthy donkey cart, with one or more wobbly wheels ready to become detached at any given moment. Another young boy would run behind and gather the pieces of trash that might happen to fall off the overly high piled heap of garbage.
Meanwhile, an old miniature Egyptian man would call out "IGIAYAH!" to men and women on the streets every day at the exact same time to come buy his fresh bread and vegetables. One of my most favorite attributes to the Egyptian culture was the fact that groceries and all fast food could be delivered to your doorstep! The city of Cairo is known to come alive at night, explaining the constant overwhelming noise, my preference being the "Beep, Beep, Beep-Beep-Beep," as the horns let the entire city know a couple had recently been married. To this day I still remind my parents that we are going to carry on this tradition in my family as soon as I exchange vows.
Looking back on these sights and sounds recreates fond memories which hold a special place in my heart, unfortunately to which I may never return. Furthermore, the average American teenager bases their lives around a closed, simple lifestyle. This may revolve around the mall, movie theaters, skate parks, or bowling allies. They may never be fortunate enough to build relationships with individuals from foreign countries whom do not even speak the same language as themselves. By being exposed to such a different form of life allowed me to appreciate diversity in societies worldwide.
When I moved back to the U.S., I realized Americans have a strong tendency to take for granted various privileges served to them on an open silver platter. Electronics, nice cars, and expensive housing are luxuries the typical local family will never enjoy. Instead, the entire extended family gathers in front of a miniscule television to watch their ultimate favorite sport, soccer. Spoon fed the "American Dream" from birth, the vast majority of Americans never witness what many in unfortunate poverty-ridden societies have to go through. Numerous uneducated locals living in the Middle East have to deal with suffering, which has developed into a form of harassment over the past decade. Such a problem has led to beggars waiting impatiently outside of American fast-food restaurants for a single Egyptian pound or the last sip of your left-over chocolate milkshake to feed their nine children. True, poverty does exist in the United States, thus the percentage of families earning minimum wage (if any wage) in these third-world countries is unbelievable! Everywhere one may turn; every street one may walk down, this poverty is apparent and affects their lives directly, while breathing in that ghastly pollution and smog.
Worldwide events likewise affect families living overseas; they typically have much more accurate knowledge of what is actually taking place. News programs broadcasted in the United States have a tendency to hold bias views and over exaggerate the harm or danger of an event. Bringing out the negative aspects of a situation allows the reporters to gain a more interesting story. Therefore, many Americans are misinformed and tend to label any Arab passerby as a terrorist. I can not bring myself to think lower of others because I only know these individuals as my classmates, my peers, and even my most successful friends! Since cultured expat-brats have been brought up in real-life situations, they are able to handle the experience(s) at an exceptional mature level.
My personal expectations of the maturity of friends may have explained the difficulties I faced through my transition to Katy, Texas. Having only attended tough private schools while overseas, I had never actually gone to public school in the U.S. I was shocked to discover the number of students in my junior class alone whom which I might be competing with me to be accepted into top schools in Texas. A culture shock struck me as I entered the campus on the first day of school. Having to cover up my skin to prevent harassment in the Middle East, I adopted the routine of dressing modestly. As I entered the premises, I was exposed to the typical American teenager with little modesty in the way she dresses and presents herself. I slowly began to adjust and eventually found valuable friends through the swim team. For the first time in my life I faced real competition. Like any average American girl, I enjoy having a mall five minutes away, but I do miss walking down the street and not understanding a word a local might be saying, because I spoke little Arabic. No longer do I have the privilege of seeing the world during my vacations or traveling to Europe for sports trips. I would not trade my experiences growing up in the Middle East for anything in the world.
Someone once asked me which country I preferred while living in five different Middle Eastern countries. I responded by explaining that in each new location I was of a different age and created a brand new life for myself to be filled with irreplaceable experiences. There is no possible way to choose a favorite country. Therefore, since I feel I have definitely benefited from gaining worldly knowledge as a child, I am definitely looking forward to giving my children similar opportunities to expand their perspectives of the world.