By Menna Taher
“So what do you think I should pack in my bag to Egypt? I heard all girls are veiled there. I also heard it’s very dusty and unclean. I hope we could find booze there. I heard that they have this whole month when they don’t eat at all. Is there any decent food here? Oh wow, McDonalds!”
The stream of thoughts were part of a dialogue in an improvised play conducted in the first intercultural awareness day held in the oriental hall at The American University in Cairo. The play depicted the stereotypes and misconceptions of Egyptians on Americans and vice versa.
The audience laughed hard. “I know that this play is depicting stereotypes, but actually to me it’s very real,” said Maria Alexandria, a student from Florida. “Some people are actually like that. It’s a sad truth.”
The workshop was initially the idea of Nelly Corbel, senior coordinator of International Student Affairs.
Upon coming up with the idea, Corbel contacted Simon Rasier and Bjorn Warkalla, directors of Planpolitik, an organization in Germany that conducts academic and non-academic workshops and political simulation games.
“The key of Planpolitik is to offer interactive learning activities,” Raiser said.
The workshop was divided into discussion and interactive games that helped students learn more about how to deal with cultural differences.
“The workshop is very interesting, very interactive. It’s stimulated multiculturalism very well, and proven the point through the games, ” said Usman Naeem, a journalism junior from Pakistan.
Naeem liked the game ‘Ecotonos’ where cards are distributed with different cultural behaviors, like conceptions of time, personal space and body language. Holders of cards have to act according to the culture given to them.
Breaks in-between also enabled Egyptians and non-Egyptians to interact outside the frame of the workshop. Discussions ranged from religion, to politics to vacation spots to differences in languages and everyday situations.
Closing the workshop, many ideas were gathered on how to build a bridge between Egyptian and International students.
“I think the ideas were really helpful,” Corbel said. “The rooming (an idea that International students become roommates with Egyptians) was a very good idea and also the overlap during orientation. Another good idea is also having this event as a trip.”
“Interaction is like playing cards, either stick to your own rules, or step back and observe and still be able to win,” said Judith Hellebronth, a German journalism student.
A general consensus was shared that students’ perceptions broadened through the session. “I think it’s very pretentious to believe that you mastered intercultural understanding,” Corbel said.