This past week I had the opportunity to work with exchange students from the Muslim world. The students were completing the 10-month YES program in the United States. During their time in the US they were spread out over all 50 states attended American high schools and lived with host families. On Friday we put close to 300 of them on planes at Dulles and they returned to their home countries.
I worked closely with 24 of these students over the week. The countries represented in my group were Jordan, Iraq, Tunisia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Gaza/West Bank (Palestine), Lebanon and Yemen. We had workshops and discussions on "What is national identity?", "Who influences U.S. foreign policy?", "Is a free press essential for a democracy?" along with other questions about policy and culture.
During one of our last workshop sessions I posed some lighter questions, encouraging them to reflect on their experience on a more personal level. I asked them about food and about their travel within the United States. They wrote their responses on a whiteboard and have posted the photos of them below.
"American food you will miss the most"
"Favorite place you visited in the United States that you can't wait to tell your family and friends about."
It's rare that a week of work can change one's life. Too often we limit the discussion of globalization to the sphere of economics. We forget the joy of cultural exchange and the growth that come from melding, sharing, and understanding what was once foreign. Globalization is having a Yemeni and Bangladeshi tell you about native Hawaiian culture. Globalization is singing along to the Beatles with a group of Lebanese and Tunisians. Globalization is talking about favorite Mexican foods with an Iraqi.
Perhaps what is more important is my personal investment in the resolution of conflicts impacting these people. I now want positive change in these places not for the fulfillment of an abstract vision of peace, but because with that peace life will be better for people that I know, people that are my friends. When I hear of violence in the West Bank I will immediately think if Mai and Anan are okay. From now on when I see the number of civilian causalities in Iraq rise or hear of people being imprisoned for extended periods of time by U.S. forces I will hope Narsay and Kawan are safe. In short, foreign policy just became personal.