Bullying: USA vs. Egypt

These past two semesters in my beginning German classes at OU, I have made a wonderful friend. I have mentioned her in a few posts before, but now I am going to dedicate a full post to one specific thing that she has made me think more about. Lamis is from Cairo, Egypt, and her native language is Arabic, although she has been taught in English since primary school, so I would say that she is native to both languages.

Lamis, like me, is attempting to get a minor in German, and beginning courses are five days a week, so we have had quite a bit of time getting to know each other while we help each other learn a new language. Lamis is very talkative, and tells me stories and facts about her life and home all the time.

Somehow in German class one day we breached the topic of bullying, and how it is an epidemic in American schools.

Well, Lamis proceeded to school me on bullying (or rather the lack thereof) in Egypt. She told me that only once in her life in Egypt had she even heard about an instance of bullying in her school, wherein a boy made fun of a girl who was overweight. The boy was immediately ostracized by his classmates and suspended until he, as well as his parents, apologized in front of the entire school to the girl and her family.

Bullying in Egypt, she said, rarely occurs, because a student who bullied someone would face immediate and deep repercussions, not just from the faculty of the school but also from their fellow students, who would avoid and exclude them from activities.

I think it is great that children in Egypt are so aware that bullying is wrong that they do not associate with children who are mean to others. I wonder how the system became that way, if bullying was once a problem, but was fixed. However, knowing how pervasive bullying is in American schools and how difficult it is to eradicate it, I get the feeling that harsh bullying has probably never existed in the country.

So, why is it that America struggles so much with bullying while Egypt, and I presume many other countries, have virtually no problem at all? I’m sure it is a cultural difference, although I will not claim to understand that which I clearly do not. I can only guess at reasons why.

What are your thoughts?

Refugee Issues in Germany–A Recent OU Fulbright’s Experience

In a serendipitous turn of events since my recent decision to (perhaps) do work involving the refugee crisis in Germany, I was informed in my German class this week of a talk that was going to be given by a recent OU Grad who was granted a Fulbright and ended up spending his time observing refugees and their squatter’s rights in Berlin.  The event was being offered as an option for fulfilling the cultural component of my German class, but I had already fulfilled the component and simply went to learn more about what I might potentially be doing a few years from now.

At first when I heard that Taylor McKenzie had already studied what seemed to be exactly what I wanted to study, I was worried that my idea for a research project– or whatever I eventually decided to do–would be in vain. Attending his lecture and attempting to grasp his experiences  this Thursday proved me incredibly wrong.

Taylor did not really talk about his Fulbright Grant status other than the fact that he was forced to scrap his original plan on focusing on Squatter’s Rights in the 1970s when he arrived in Berlin and found that “anything and everything that could have been said on the topic had been said” long before he arrived.

Thus, for a period of about three months he was at a total loss for what he could do, until he learned that a refugee march was being held from South Germany all the way to Berlin, in a region called Kreuzberg which McKenzie described as “Brooklyn-like.” The march was organized after a refugee committed suicide in his house of asylum, reportedly because without a job to support himself or others, he had nothing to do, and no other choice. The march lasted about three months, and when everyone arrived, a square in Kreuzberg with tents and food had been set up for them to bide their time until they were granted the rights of citizens they desperately wanted. However, many of the marchers, and many refugees in Europe today, are paperless, and it is very difficult for them to be granted any sort of rights.

Eventually, the refugees set up camp in an abandoned school near the square, where they created a large and robust community in which different floors were organized based on different needs. Their organized community lasted for a few months, until hundreds of German Polizei removed the squatters, all but for a small group that escaped to the roof.  Known as the “Roofugees,” they refused to evacuate the building, saying that they would rather jump than be forced to return to either asylum homes or their home countries.

As Taylor told his story, and the story of the thousands of refugees he witnessed struggling to survive, I could tell he was still trying to wrap his brain around everything he had experienced, even though he was trying to give a lecture on his Fulbright year. Though he has been back in the US for months, he still was working to fully comprehend his stay. The way he talked about what he saw in Berlin reminded me of everything I saw in Tanzania and how it is still difficult for me to express my trip in words. Taylor’s feelings were better expressed on broad concepts, like good versus evil, instead of black-and-white steps on what could be done.

Although I wish Taylor had talked more about the process of his Fulbright, of what exactly he had studied and completed in order to fulfill the requirements of his grant instead of simply telling us the story of what he documented, I was still satisfied from his presentation. His unorganized PowerPoint slides were somehow perfectly complimentary to his scattered thoughts, and although I think the wall-to-wall attendees might have been a bit underwhelmed by the talk, everyone in the room learned a lot.

We learned that even though countries that would seem to be very well-equipped  for such humanitarian issues encounter countless unforeseen problems. In fact, Germany is struggling with refugees just like Taylor struggled to  present a main idea and a thesis for his lecture. Both are very well-equipped; Germany has an economy and a system of government of which to be boastful, and Taylor has an intellect and the experience that make him an expert thinker on the topic.

Although I was fearful that Taylor’s talk would perhaps change my mind on tackling refugee issues in Germany, it only strengthened my resolve to make a difference. Of all the things he saw and documented, there are hundreds of thousands of refugees facing the same as well as their own unique problems. His focus group ended up being in a single town square that contained an abandoned school. A few years from now, I’m sure new challenges will spread all over the country. The refugee issues in Germany are far and wide, and they are far from over. They are something I plan on following, and potentially will be participating in, for a long time.




Early Ideas for a Fulbright

Even though it is only the Fall of my sophomore year here at OU, this semester I have begun thinking about what I would like to write a Fulbright Grant for, as it is a requirement of the Global Engagement Fellowship that I apply for a Fulbright early in my senior year.  To the extent of my knowledge, there are two different types of Fulbright Grants students can apply for, the first being to teach their language in a foreign country, and the second to do research in a foreign country. When I first began taking German last semester, I thought that the easiest thing for me to apply for would simply be to teach English in a German-speaking country.

However, I have always hoped that I would never be one to take the path of least resistance,  and with the state of the world today, I have begun to rethink that plan. With the current Syrian refugee crisis (as well as refugees from other surrounding countries), hundreds of thousands of people are making their way into what many believe is the best country in Europe, and perhaps the world: Germany. It’s amazing what a difference only 70 years makes, isn’t it?

Being the humanitarian that I am, I feel as if I will not be able to sit by while small, yet loud groups of people call for the refugees to be rejected from the country, or barely survive in houses of Asylum for years while they wait for their immigration to be legal. When the thought of doing research on the refugee crisis in Germany first occurred to me, I knew it was something that was worth learning about. However, the more I think about it, the more complicated it becomes, ethically and otherwise.

What type of research would I conduct? Find out the general opinion of Germans on the incoming refugees? Would I relate my findings to the lessons of WWII? Would I examine how the government is dealing with the influx of people? Would I simply observe the new precedents Germany would be setting on how to welcome and treat refugees in their time of need?

Would I be able to sit idly by and observe the effects of the crisis? My answer is no.

I know the type of person I am, and I know would not be able to simply examine and quantify the amount of suffering and sadness I observed.

Somehow, I must find a way to work hands-on with Germans and refugees alike to help solve the problems they will surely be facing two years from now, just as they are conquering problems today.

The American Dream is long gone in my eyes, prisoner in the pockets and bank accounts of a few wealthy American corporations.  Maybe someday it will return. But today, right now in the world, there is a new dream in Germany, and refugees arrive every day, seeking safety and support in a country that offers so much.

This post has become long and emotional and ranty, and I apologize.

I still am not sure exactly for what I will write my Fulbright, but I know my main motivation will be to help people in any and all ways that I can. After all, I still have two years to think of all the possibilities.