Monday, June 9, 2014

The Graduate Student Center: My New Home!

When Fulbright asked: “Please describe any social or cultural activities you participated in during the last academic term”, my thoughts immediately went back to the place where it all started, the Grad Center. A typical day for me would start and end at the Graduate Student Center; I basically lived there.

My classmates always wondered why I liked that place so much; they probably thought I had a thing for ceiling fans, an addiction to the free Colombian coffee, or some inexplicable affinity to open spaces, which they might have attributed to the Middle Eastern part of my character. But the truth is beyond all those reasons, for it was at the Grad Center that I found a piece of home.

When I first came to Philadelphia, I knew no one, and it wasn't long before I started to get homesick. So I started looking for people who understood where I came from, people who spoke my language and shared my culture. But it wasn't long before that search ended and I realized I needed a more proactive approach. That’s when I decided to volunteer to teach Arabic.

Apparently, I wasn't the first person to get that idea; the Grad Center had a program called “Language Chats” that is run by students who volunteer to teach others the beauty of their mother tongues. I was officially the “Arabic Language Chat Facilitator” and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I would meet every Wednesday with my students, some would come and go, but I had one amazing student who never missed a class. They were all different ages and different backgrounds and professions, which made the lessons even more interesting. Each student was there for a different reason, but it didn’t matter, as they were all deeply interested in what I had to say.

The best part about these chats was that I got to talk in Arabic - something that I terribly missed - and explain in detail the delicious food that we have, the various traditions, the unique music, the similarities with other cultures and the many differences. But it was really the hidden pleasure of rediscovering the things I cherished about my culture through the eyes of those foreign to it that kept me going. For it is only by looking at your life from the outside that you will you be able to deeply appreciate your roots, your language, your families and even yourselves. It has been a truly eye opening experience and I would recommend it to anyone.

Sara Marie is a Jordanian Fulbrighter pursuing a Master of Public Administration at University of Pennsylvania.

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