One of my closest friends here at UNC is named Danielle Koro. Danielle is an Arab American who is originally from Jordan, and she has often spoken with me about her experience living in Jordan, her Arab customs that she continues to practice, and how much she enjoys being a member of UNC’s Arab Student Organization. Due to the fact that I know virtually nothing about Arab culture, I decided to choose ASO as my subculture to explore in an attempt to further connect with my friend and this organization that she is so fond of being a part of. I came into this journey with the assumption that Arab culture was extremely different from American culture, and that ASO would go about educating UNC students through verbal information such as powerpoints or exhibits. I hoped to learn about the individual components that comprise what it is to be Arabic and how ASO goes about informing other UNC students about this culture. Thus, I was prompted to make my research question “ How does ASO go about benefiting students at UNC through the education of their culture?”.
Arab Student Organizations are extremely popular and can be found on almost any university campus. The general purpose of these organizations is to give the community exposure to Arabic culture and traditions, and to provide a voice for Arabic students and students of Arabic descent on campus (Arab Student Organization, 2020, para. 1). Arab Americans are often found to adopt new American traditions and use their own culture to impact those around them, and this is often the main mission of Arab student organizations (El-Aswad, 2010, pg. 32). Different aspects of the lives of Arab Americans can affect their biological, psychological, and sociological standings within American society, presenting many complex situations and issues that many feel people should be aware of. By acknowledging the differences between the lives and culture of Arab Americans and Americans, one can begin to form a bridge between the community through the installation of groups such as Arab student organizations (Nassar-McMillan et al., 2014, pg. 67).
Observational Data and Analysis:
I drove myself and a few other friends to a middle eastern themed hookah bar for “Arabian Night” hosted by the ASO. I was hit with sounds of upbeat Arabic music, the feeling of vapor, and the appetizing smell of the food when I walked in. My friends and I walked over to our designated hookah and sat down. We were then served our food, and it consisted of hummus, rice, and chicken. I realized that ASO educates others by exposing them to aspects of their culture such as hookah, Arabic music, and Arabic food. Danielle brought two of her fellow members over to our table to chat. The three of them began talking about the experience of growing up in each of their home countries. I concluded that you did not have to attend some fancy ASO event in order to be educated on their culture, for you could sit down with a member and simply have a conversation.
I drove to the campus YMCA for an open mic night hosted by ASO and the Black Student Movement. ASO effectively educates UNC students to their culture by hosting events with other organizations; therefore, they widen the scope of their audience. When I made it to the lounge, I sat on a couch with Danielle. I noticed that there were forty people in the room who were variously spaced out. The theme for the night was “identity: who are you?’. One by one people began to go up to the front of the room to sing or read poetry that spoke to their self identity, and I admired every person who went for their courage and honesty. I understood that ASO manages to share their culture with other students by sharing personal experiences of themselves, not just through physical displays of traditions. After ten people performed, everyone in the room clapped for them.
My observations and experiences with the members of ASO have allowed me to conclude that the process of exposing students to physical Arabic traditions, through working with other organizations and foreign audiences, and by merely conversing with non-members about their own personal Arabic experiences, The ASO benefits UNC students through the education of their culture. My initial assumption that ASO used powerpoints or exhibits in order to educate others was proven wrong, as I now know that they actively sumberge students into their culture through interesting conversations and events that contain physical customs. I also learned that I was incorrect when I assumed that American and Arab culture was extremely different, for I was surprised at how similar the two actually appeared to be. For example, Danielle confessed that Jordan was actually pretty similar to the U.S., and that the main differences were that certain topics were more taboo in Jordan, and that religion was more prevalent in daily life. My original research question failed to define the aspects of Arabic culture and how it changes based on where you are from. Therefore, I would like to further explore what encompasses “Arabic culture” and how different members of ASO display, practice, and define this.
Arab Student Organization. (2020). Arab Student Organization. Heel Life. Retrieved from https://heellife.unc.edu/organization/arab-student-organization.
El-Aswad, E.-S. (2010). Narrating the self among Arab Americans: A bridging discourse between Arab tradition and American culture. Digest of Middle East Studies, 19(2), 234–248.
Nassar-McMillan, S. C., Ajrouch, K. J., & Hakim-Larson, J. A. (2015). Biopsychosocial Perspectives on Arab Americans: culture, development, and health. New York: Springer.