By Mohammad Al Astal (YES 2014–2015, Gaza, placed with AFS-USA in Portland, OR)
I celebrated International Education Week (IEW) during my YES exchange year when I was placed in Portland, Oregon. After learning more about IEW, I was determined to participate in this opportunity and leave a mark on the people in my host community. With my host mom’s help, we drafted a plan together to do a presentation tour, and I edited these presentations for different audiences and places. We contacted more than ten organizations, schools, and community centers to arrange for me to give these presentations. In the end, I gave 18 presentations to over 800 people in one week. I couldn’t have been prouder of this achievement! Some of the places where I presented included a nearby church, public schools, and the Muslim Educational Trust Community and Educational Center.
I learned that education is an essential tool to inform people about the world. Aside from general facts about my home country and culture, my audiences were surprised to learn that there was so much they didn’t know about Gaza and the Middle East. Since then, this realization has inspired my career goal to become an ambassador and represent my country and culture.
I also learned to accept people who don’t know much about certain topics that are important to me. For me, as a Gazan, topics like politics and security are of high interest and to encounter people in the United States who didn’t know much about such topics made me feel surprised at first. However, my experience with IEW taught me that it is okay for others not to immediately understand, and that it is my responsibility to speak up for the issues that matter to me. After all, in life we all are teachers and students and we will forever continue to learn from each other. It is this fundamental concept of sharing knowledge with each other that will form a network of communities that are dedicated to peace and mutual understanding.
For me, international education means learning more about yourself and others, and I don't see it as merely being restricted to learning about other cultures and nations. International education helps us understand ourselves and others better, learn how similar and different we all are, and leave room for collaboration across nations.
Mohammed teaching classmates at his YES host school some of the fancy footwork and coordination involved in performing a Palestinian folkloric dance called the Dabke.