“Tell me about Egypt/Australia.” – A question frequently asked by my friends and acquittances upon returning home. All too often, I go to a social event or a party organized by friends in which I was introduced to others. Again, I was asked this question and don’t know how to answer. In fact, I tend to avoid mentioning that I was abroad at all if I didn’t know them.
In contrast, I love sharing my experiences abroad. If you asked the right questions, I cannot stop talking. However, a generic question such as “tell me about ___” gives me no clue as where I should take it. Are you interested in the nation’s history? Are you familiar with the most iconic sights in the country? Are you asking about the culture? Food? Or what were the challenges of living there? Since a country like Egypt is very different from Canada. It can go in so many different directions.
As I am meeting someone for the first time, I don’t have any hint or history to refer to. More often than not, the person asking me the question is merely trying to be polite and have no interest at all. In most cases, it eventually leads to the much dreaded awkward silence. Someone even told me “I would never live in a country like that” after asking so many question about the political situations in Egypt. Nothing wrong with his opinion, but the socially awkwardness of me didn’t know how to carry on the conversation after that.
It doesn’t help that I was in a “controversial” country like Egypt. Most people already have prejudice against Egypt thanks to Western media’s coverage of the ongoing protests and political turmoils. That unfortunately leads to prejudice on me, who knowingly went to live in such a country.
I already feel disconnected in a way after coming back home. I always tell my friends that I didn’t feel much culture shock when I was abroad. I feel more culture shock after coming back home. The high tech metropolitan city life really changed people’s behaviours, which I deemed unnatural, but that’s a whole separate topic that I wish to cover in the future. It is shocking for me that I used to think most people in the West are more open minded. The fact is only some are.
What do you enjoy the most when you live abroad? Is it the monuments, the history, the culture/language, food, or scenery? It is very hard to describe the reality in living in a country like Egypt. I do not know how to convey the best part of my experience to everyone. There are many things I wouldn’t have learnt if I never came and stayed. But most of all, I learned so much more about myself. When I came to Egypt, I said to myself that I want to find my passion. Although I still can’t pinpoint exactly what it is, I can tell you that I have a direction that I wanna go. More importantly, it is the realization that I am a passionated person. I didn’t know this side of me existed before.
It has been a struggle to explain to of that. People either discern it or do not “get it”. The people who understand the value of these experiences are the people who have travelled to/lived in less developed countries themselves (I really mean travel, not vacation).
All in all, I wish there is less prejudice in this world. I understand that some people are not interested in travelling or talking about some aspects of another country. But please, if you can, give me a sign.