An exchange program unites youth from European and Arab countries
International Reporters: How did you find out about this project and what made you want to participate?
Yasemin Simsek: My German teacher told me about the Organization 'Connecting Cultures' and its offer for young students to discuss several issues. The goal was to prevent cultural misunderstanding between Arabic and European countries. Since I´ve always been interested in different opinions and exchanging life experiences with foreign people, I felt highly motivated to participate.
IR: How did you prepare yourself for the trip? Did you expect something from it in advance?
YS: It was the first time for me to be in the desert. Sleeping in tents and riding a camel are only two of the many vivid memories I keep. I had to go to Oman alone and at first I was afraid of getting lost on the way. Because I was not used to speaking English, I was discomforted by the thought of it being my only way of verbal communication. But it turned out to be surprisingly easy to manage everything on my own. Even the language barriers virtually disappeared after a few discussions in the group.
YS: We got up early in the morning, packed our bags and had a quick breakfast. Then we started our trip into the desert until noon, because at that time it was too hot to continue walking. We stopped in the shade for about two hours to have discussions, eat lunch or pray. Afterwards we continued our walk until sunset, then pitched our tents and met again for dinner.
IR: How did it feel to adapt to the new way of living?
YS: It was a great experience to live in the desert for one week. I slept much better than at home and it freed my mind to be away from a computer and everyday media.
IR: Tell us more about the program itself and the topics of the discussions. Which was the most impressive moment to you?
YS: We discussed several subjects dealing with culture. It was very interesting to listen to the other participants because they came from so many different countries and had such diverse opinions and impressions. Imane from Morocco said that the people in her country feel rejected by the other Arabic countries because of some minor differences in language and appearance. I had never heard of this problem before. And now that I know about it, I ask myself if there are more things we should know about other cultures.
IR: What is culture to you? Could you find a definition for yourself?
YS: In my opinion, culture is the expression of identity. It comes from the inside and should not be defined by clothes, style or social status. Everybody has their own culture in some way, and it should be seen separately from traditions.
Connecting Cultures is a non-governmental organization sponsored by the Unesco and was founded in London in 2004 by Mark Evans. Twice a year the organization takes groups of young people from Europe and the Arab world on intensive five day journeys into the desert or the mountains of Oman.
More information: http://www.connectingcultures.co.uk/