The following is a guest post from AUA Mosaic Scholarship recipient Shayna Orens. She is currently volunteering with Hands Along the Nile Development Services, Inc. in Egypt. To find an amazing opportunity like this one, search the AUA Directory of Recommended Organizations© today!
If you know me well, you probably won’t be surprised that after a week of 3 midterms, a paper, an audition, not enough sleep and too much caffeine, I’m packing my bags and flying somewhere where I’ve convinced myself I’ll realize something profound about the world and come home a different person. You will probably tell me I should relax and take a chill pill. You are completely justified.
As much as I have fallen in love with New York over the last year, and as much as I’d love a week to myself in this city, I wanted to use the week I had to do something different. Since I’ve been at Columbia, my mind has been stretched and challenged in a lot of ways. But going to a school that is so politically active and aware has made me question some long-held beliefs I’ve had. I have no idea what I’m going to do with my life, and I’m completely okay with that.
I’ve thought a lot about whether international service and development is what I want to do with my life. Would my energy be better spent if I devoted it to the country I grew up in? I don’t want to be seen as that American girl who thought she could change the world in one week. That’s why I’m so excited to be one of America’s Unofficial Ambassadors (AUA). AUA is about building bridges and building peace by building understanding. I know I can’t change the world in one week. But like everything, peace-building is a process. I want to look back on my life and know that I was a part of that process, even though the answers might not all come during my lifetime. Tomorrow, I’m getting on a plane and going to Egypt. I know I’m not going to change Egypt. But if I can change even one mind and show my Egyptian peers that I care about their beliefs, what they have to say, and their place in the world, I have a place in this ongoing process.
Growing up in post-9/11 America is a unique experience for my generation, but it’s also an even more unique opportunity for us. Whether or not we take this opportunity is up to us, and now is the time. We are the ones who can change perceptions and misconceptions about the Muslim World in the eyes of Americans and about Americans in the eyes of the Muslim World. I firmly believe that we can change the way we see things if we change the way we look at them. That’s why I’m spending my spring break in Cairo.
I want to see Cairo in light of its recent revolution and understand what was underneath the images we saw on CNN last year. Who are those people? What are their stories? What can I learn from them? What can they learn from me? How has the revolution impacted artists and musicians? Where do we share political opinions? Where do we not?
Today is the launching point to somewhere. Think back on your day. Who did you talk to? What did you do? What bridges did you build, and where can you go from here? I hope that this trip will help me understand the Arab Spring in a new light. I’m going with an open mind but remembering where I’m coming from. I think that’s what it means to really be a diplomat. But, I want to know for sure. That might not happen this week, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right?