On Sept. 6, Lebanese Fulbright Scholars shared their perspectives and enriching knowledge during “Just a Piece of the Middle East,” an event filled with cross-cultural exchange and small group discussions on Lebanese history, civil rights, heritage and more.
Since July 6, the Global Training Initiative at NC State and the department of foreign languages and literature has had the opportunity to host a Fulbright junior faculty development program for six university professors from various Lebanese universities.
The six Fulbright scholars are Ms. Andree Affeich, lecturer and assistant professor of translation, Mrs. Mira Alameddine, gifted and talented coordinator and professor of academic English, Mrs. Ghada Awada, professor of education and English, Mrs. Imane Dernaika, English instructor, Mrs. Loubna Nehmeh, English, linguistic and teacher training instructor and Mr. Paul Saghbini, technical writing and English instructor.
“They’ve been doing a variety of different educational programs, they’ve been travelling around the Triangle and across North Carolina,” said Becky Cibulskis, an international programs assistant for the Global Training Initiative at NC State. “They’re studying linguistics and English and they’ve been learning a lot about North Carolinian culture. So the event today is an opportunity for them to share their research and their culture with NC State students.”
Students and participants explored civil rights, the educational system, dating and marriage, diversity and misconceptions, history and women in society at different tables, each featuring a Fulbright scholar to facilitate an in depth group discussion and answer questions. After some time has passed, the attendees could connect with another scholar at a different table of their choosing.
“The idea is that it’s like a one-on-one discussion with students,” Cibulskis said. “One of the most interesting things about the events we do is the perspective that you can gain from talking to somebody that has a different experience from you.”
A map of Lebanon and the surrounding countries was also drawn on a board for those who didn’t know its geographic location. Lebanon has its west coast bordering the Mediterranean Sea and has a population of over 4 million people, and its size of about 4,000 square feet is less than one-tenth of the size of North Carolina.
Each table itself connected listeners to different aspects of Lebanon and there are even more complexities and facets within those aspects. The learning process often showed how little people knew about Lebanon or that what they knew was not completely accurate, but just as importantly the discussions showed how easily that can be remedied with effort from the individual, curiosity and a desire to understand.
“Majorly what you get off of the first page of Google is what most people say about such and such thing, so it’s about one — exercising your brain into critical thinking and trying to understand from a global perspective why are you reading such information and is there someone who’s saying something else,” Saghbini said. “You’re just going to have to look things up a bit more in-depth see how things in reality are, and you will find it’s very easy to find but it’s about you trying to put in the effort.”
An individual’s knowledge about a country or culture sometimes only consists of what they’ve seen to be pushed to the forefront of different kinds of popular media, and this can distract from a country’s many facets and details.
“It’s not just up to the media,” Saghbini said. “The media would give you a lot of information. It’s up to you to pick that information and try to really question if this information that I just got — how true could it be and why.”
Personal inquisitiveness and a desire to understand more can lead to better insights. Some of the students felt more encouraged to participate in the event to learn about the culture of their friends.
“At the beginning it was really interesting to learn more about the Lebanese culture,” said Aurore Gisclon, a junior studying marketing. “Actually we went with our Lebanese friends, that’s why we’re really interested in this. We were already convinced to visit Lebanon and with this meeting we’re even more convinced.”
Other students enjoyed the themed tables and that the Fulbright scholars explained the topics in depth.
“This event was wonderful and I loved how they had the different tables that talk about different things, because each of the people that talked to us at the different tables are all educators,” said Christine Norton, a sophomore studying electrical and computer engineering. “They really knew how to explain to us and kind of crush our misconceptions about what we might’ve thought about Lebanon before we came here. So it was very eye-opening. I learned a lot.”
The Fulbright scholars learned about North Carolinian culture throughout their 10-week program and at “Just a Piece of the Middle East” as well from the participants. Part of the event also resulted in meeting people from different countries and getting to see how different people do things, according to Nehmeh.
“Cultural exchange is so important,” Nehmeh said. “You get the chance to know more about people.”
Just as cultural exchange was highlighted in this event alone, it also can be a large part of the college experience and help expand an individual’s worldview.
“The whole point of university is you being exposed to different people, one, different cultures and you getting what you haven’t seen before and you synthesizing all that into your personality, into your thinking, into your mindset,” Saghbini said. “So how else would you be exposed to these people other than running into them in the university? It’s when you organize such events where people get to talk about their background, to exchange information, to correct wrongs. It’s very important. To me it’s the essence of what university is, because it’s not just learning in books, it’s getting a bigger and wider view and expanding horizons.”