Break Out of Your Shell by BASHAR

SYRIA — When you moved to a new country with another culture for your first time, you will feel alone. And maybe you spend more time alone, especially if you grew up and spent your first 24-years in a conservative city (Aleppo, Syria) which has made you believe in most of your community ideas and culture, and therefore be afraid to try something new.

In 2008, I moved to Berlin to study in an exchange program, but moving to a new culture with a new language was hard. I was without friends and faced many problems in understanding the culture. Therefore, I made my laptop my best friend, and the best feeling was to speak with my old friends and have fun by buying things online in auctions. Six months later, with no chance to feel comfortable with the new people and culture, I was so bored I decided to buy an online, one-way train ticket from Berlin to Paris without any previous plans.

It was foggy, rainy, weekend day at the end of November. The trip would last 3 days, and I did not know anyone there, so I asked myself why I bought it? I tried to convince two friends to come, but they refused because of the high costs for students. But one of them recommended that I use a website for hosting travelers, which he had never used before. I thought it will be a chance to charge myself with good feelings, and visit one of the most attractive cities in the world; I did not plan to buy return ticket.

I did not believe in the hosting website, because it was an unbelievable idea in our culture. I made a profile and sent requests the same night of my trip, but I made a backup plan and saved some hotel addresses (not 4-5 stars) and did not tell my family or other friends. The train left at 20:45 from Berlin’s main station and arrived after 12 hours in Gare du Nord, Paris. It was a sunny day, which give me energy to walk through Paris, to see the Louvre Museum, the Seine River, and the Eiffel tower.

I checked my email at 19:00 and I saw many people rejected me because I had not read their profile carefully, but one French-Moroccan person, “Bou Ghaleb,” with many references, accepted me.

I was first afraid because it was an unbelievable idea and I kept saying to myself, “Why did he accept me?” However, I decided to try it, with anxiety. I arrived to his address at 22:30 and spoke in English, since he did not speak Arabic, but I was shocked at his kindness and hospitality. He gave me his flat key and advice about the city. In addition, we spoke together about his 2-years travel around the world, and he encouraged me to travel to broaden my cultural horizons and exchange ideas with other people to know about others cultures. Moreover, the next day he took me to a Couchsurfing meeting event, and I met real community people from all over the world. I admit that this person hosted me for 6-days and inspired me to travel for 50 days in Europe, and meet many people from many cultures and religions.

I will speak, in short, on the most attractive experiences with the people that hosted me and changed my views on humanity, and the meaning of life.

Daniel was 27 years old and hosted me in his studio in the center of Copenhagen. We spent time cooking together and discussing the Arabic culture and some red lines in our community, since he visited many Arabic countries and spoke a little Arabic. He was very kind, flexible, and generous. Moreover, this visit changed my experience about the image of the western world, and I realized that people are much closer, and there is no general characteristics for any nation in these times. Even though it was only a 2-3 days visit, it give me a great impression of the kindness of the Denmark people, who speak English and were helpful, always with a great big smile on their faces. In addition, I realized that not only Arab people are generous, as I was convinced of before.

In Istanbul, I spent 4 days with Kamal, a 22-years student who lived with Guel and her boyfriend. His house was near Taqsim square, the most famous square in Istanbul. I got the benefit of understanding more about Turkish cultures and their impact on the world. In addition, I shared with them a classical Turkish breakfast, scrambled eggs (eggs, tomato and pepper) and they were so kind. I was attracted to Istanbul’s architecture, mosques, islands, and bridges. It deserves to be visited again because it combines both western and eastern cultures.

I have visited about 10 countries on this trip, where I was hosted or just met people. This trip changed my whole idea about the world, human differences, relationships, and enabled me to accept all people, because there are many things that unite humanity more than divide it. It was a chance to accept people and become friends with them without looking at his/her beliefs, religion. etc. In addition, I later hosted a few people in Aleppo, then, I was active member during my stay in Egypt. Finally, although perhaps our countries are far from each other, I am sure that we are closer to each other in our humanity.

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