A short while ago I was given the opportunity to explore one of Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods, with a specific emphasis on Arabic culture. It was a truly amazing experience to be able to travel to a place which highlighted the Arabic language and culture I am experiencing in class and immerse me in it for a while as well. I’ve always loved foreign language and culture, so this experience was particularly enjoyable for me. I went along with my professor and her two young children around to grocery stores, bakeries, a restaurant, a mosque, and clothing stores.
While in the grocery store, we viewed different labels in the Arabic language as well as saw some food items that don’t exist in the traditional American culture. We were even challenged by our Arabic professor to remember what the words were in English (as we were just studying a lesson in different types of Arabic food). It was so rewarding for me to be able to recognize some of the words we had been studying as it proved my proficiency in Arabic was growing.
My favorite part of the trip was going to the bakery. We went to the first and viewed the different types of breads. Whereas most people think of pita as the sole type of bread in the Middle East, there are actually many different types of breads that exist in the Middle East. We were able to sample some delicious desserts, some with chocolate and others with syrup.
The clothing stores were an impressive experience. I had never seen Oriental clothing in real life before going to these stores. We saw traditional clothing for very formal events as well as everyday clothing they wear in different parts of the Middle East. Another time where we saw authentic clothing was at the restaurant we went to. The waiters were all dressed in authentic dress and spoke fluent Arabic. I was able to order part of my order in Arabic, and felt reasonably impressed with myself, using the colloquial dialect to order. The entire restaurant was very authentic-feeling with a desert area theme to it.
Another place we went to was a mosque. It was very interesting to me to see how much religion influences them in their everyday lives. While we didn’t get to see the prayer, we did get to see the areas. Instead of pews or even chairs in the rooms as I was more accustomed to, there was a simple rug instead.
I am so grateful to have been able to go on this trip. It was a truly enlightening experience I might never have been able to have without my Arabic professor. It can be intimidating, sometimes, to travel to areas where you aren’t a member of the major ethnic group. Sometimes we need to learn to break the barrier between ethnicities and not be afraid to intermingle among those of other cultures for a truly great cultural experience.