This year, CIEE Study Abroad alum Paula Naoufal had her article “Three Cultures, One City” published on Go World Travel. Paula wrote about the cultural experience of being a Lebanese student among Americans on a CIEE Study Abroad program in Prague. As the only non-American student attending the program that session, Paula was able to experience American culture as well as Czech culture. We interviewed Paula to learn more about her article and semester abroad:
Why did you decide to study abroad in Prague?
At first I wanted to go to Barcelona, since it is my favorite city. But I felt like I had to do something daring/out of the box and go somewhere I haven’t been before—to a completely new culture to benefit as much as I could from the experience. And surely I had heard so many good things about the country.
What surprised you the most about Prague?
Having been to a great number of European countries, I felt Prague was very different in its culture, its people, and its architecture. But what mostly captured my attention is the liveliness yet calm environment of the city. It felt so alive, yet so tranquil—it was a bizarre combination that I constantly enjoyed.
What was it like to be the only non-American student attending the program?
It was actually a lot of fun. I enjoyed being intertwined between two different cultures—Czech and American. Also, I wanted to escape from the Lebanese culture so it was ideal for me. And frankly I have never been to the U.S., so in a way the U.S. culture came to me.
Was studying in Prague your first experience with American culture? How do you think it’s different from experiencing American culture in the United States?
It was my first experience with American culture. I have several friends that are half American/half Lebanese, but the Lebanese in them always overcame their American culture, so I never sensed that American aspect of them. It was exciting for me to be surrounded by fully American people.
It is different in a sense that the Americans I met through CIEE were also trying to explore a new culture and they were out of their comfort zone, which I felt was a positive thing since you learn the most from people who are out of their routine. This made us, in a way, on the same path, wanting to explore and engulf as much as we could.
Why did you decide to write the article “Three Cultures, One City”? What kind of response have you received from it?
Most of my friends were writing journals while in Prague, yet I felt so detached from that. I just wanted to live in the moment. But weirdly, when I came back to Lebanon, I felt homesick for a place that was my home for just a month. I spoke about my trip 24/7 and whenever I would think of it, I would smile. This drove me to write about my experience.
I have received positive responses from all three cultures. It was a new kind of perspective to have three cultures interconnect in one city, especially when one of the cultures was an Arab culture, each culture was from a different continent, and surely each was very different.
Your article mentions that everyone was eager to know more about your culture. Did you find that people expected you to know everything about Lebanon? Did you feel a struggle to serve as the ambassador of your culture while abroad?
Surely people in one way or another expected me to know everything, but I felt that I didn’t disappoint. I felt a sense of ease serving as the ambassador for my culture while abroad—it always gave me joy to talk about my hometown and to clarify to people what Lebanon really is. That also encouraged me to write my second article that spoke about why one should visit Lebanon.
To learn more about Paula and her multicultural experience studying in Prague, read her article “Three Cultures, One City” on Go World Travel.
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