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June 6, 2011 / Ibrahim Leadership and Dialogue Project

Public Diplomacy in Action

Having just reached cruising altitude, we are finally on our last leg of the journey to Saudi Arabia. Everyone landed in Germany exhausted with stories to tell about their flight as we hung out in the “leisure zone” of the airport. Despite how tired we all were, there was a definitive air of excitement amongst us. Before we took off, Aya candidly leaned over to me and said “I am excited, but I am also pretty scared.” I hadn’t really processed what exactly we are getting ourselves into. After all of the preparation we have done, for the first time in my life, I am going to be the one that is really really different from everyone else. Blonde hair, fair skin, and blue eyes don’t exactly help with blending in with the crowd. It was interesting to me that Aya had the same fear about being different, despite having grown up in Saudi Arabia. Although the Saudi Embassy tried its hardest to tell us that our two societies shared many common interests and values, life in Saudi Arabia is nothing like our lives as Americans. It doesn’t matter who is Christian, Muslim, or Jewish; we are all going into this experience as outsiders.

My hope is that we can use our differences to try to relay some cross-cultural understanding. I don’t want to leave Saudi Arabia just having learned about the Saudis, I want them to learn about us too. I am interested in asking questions and learning about their lives but at the same time, I really hope they want to know about ours as well. Hopefully in the end, despite all of our differences, we can find some kind of commonality between our two groups, as we are all members of the same generation and the future of relations between our two countries.

-Erin Reilly

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