Recent Loyola graduate David Blount furthered his cultural experiences through summer study abroad opportunities at Loyola University Chicago. Blount says he has always been interested in social and political movements and the impact they have on redefining how we think and act. With that in mind, on May 12, he embarked on the Loyola faculty-led program in Tunisia, North Africa. This 20-day trip immersed each of the students into the politics, history, religion, and culture of the country that started the Arab Spring, the pro-democracy uprisings currently sweeping the Middle East and North Africa that ignited a movement of change.
Blount, along with the rest of the students, was able to experience once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, including attending U.S. Embassy presentations, camping in the Sahara Desert, exploring the southwest Tunisian mountains, visiting the Roman colosseum El Jem, and so much more. Out of the endless list of events on the group’s schedule, the most impactful moment for Blount was visiting the small town of Sidi Bouzid.
“This is the town where a fruit vendor, Mohamed Bouaziz, lit himself on fire in political protest and served as the spark of the Tunisian revolution and the Arab Spring. It was a place of tension and we felt it. It was very emotional and the energy in the area was very strong. There were writings on the walls praising Mohamed and others as martyrs trying to make the world better. This was where the revolutions started and it was where one person went as far as anyone could to create change,” says Blount.
During his time abroad, Blount acknowledged that Tunisia is different and similar in many ways to the U.S. The country, which is not much bigger than the state of Illinois, is just now coming out of an authoritarian system with two dictators and transitioning into a democratic society with a constitution. Although the culture is vastly different, like the U.S., Tunisia was a melting pot with influences from the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and the Roman Empire.
“Tunisia has a diverse society with various ethnic backgrounds, cultures, nationalities, and religions represented and free to practice and express themselves. They strive for and want the same things that we do–equal protection, opportunity, good schools, quality food, and strong communities,” says Blount.
Loyola and his trip abroad have sparked a fire within Blount. With this being his second time abroad—his first occurring at Loyola’s Beijing Center—he intends to continue traveling the world and exploring. Blount recommends that all college students take advantage of studying abroad and he has a few words of advice for Loyola students.
“Go to a place unlike your own, meet people with different perspectives, learn to live in new ways, learn to think from another angle, have your understanding and way of life challenged, and do it where you have to start from scratch. For me, it has brought many blessings, as I’ve grown as a person and learned more about different realities around the world. Moving forward, I have a greater understanding of self and I have a stronger base to find the role I wish to take for my career. Immerse yourself and let the experience teach you all you need to know. What you study, your passions, and the reality you’re in all come together.”