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Blogging Abroad to Breach Cultural Boundaries

By Tony Romm

Nine-hour days, six-day workweeks, near-death driving experiences, and frenetic holidays could be miseries for some, but they are important cultural exchanges for Karema Eldahan, SPA/BA '08.

"I started writing a column for my hometown paper in Kentucky, the Middlesboro Daily News, while I studied abroad at the American University in Cairo during my junior year," Eldahan says. "Then, the media weren't painting the best picture of that part of the world, so I saw the column as an opportunity to show [my hometown] that Arabs and Muslims are people, just like Americans, who face the same type of issues."

After graduation, the justice, law and society major returned to Egypt, where she works for a multinational construction company based in Cairo. But the Kentucky native still comments on Cairo culture for her hometown newspaper – an amazing opportunity, she says, that is heightened because her columns are now online.

Eldahan is one of many AU alumni embracing the ability of new media to transcend cultural and geographic boundaries.

"It's about using these exchanges to break down stereotypes and misconceptions about other cultures," says Brittany Aubin, SOC/BA '08, who plans to blog from Zambia once she departs for the Peace Corps this February. “The 22-year-old in me, with all of these communication options available – Facebook, the Internet, and social media –values the idea of getting as many voices heard as possible.”

And Aubin, who attributes her Web expertise to her journalism degree, is doing just that: leveraging the power of the Internet to create an ad hoc Peace Corps Web community, all from her living room in Northampton, Massachusetts. The five blogs in her informal network, one of which is owned by Carrie Navin, SIS/BA ’08, comprise a diverse international conversation that spans everything from what to pack to what life in the Peace Corps is really like.

In her own corner of the Web, Eldahan, who plans to pursue a law degree next year, notes that she’s learned about other nations’ legal and political traditions through their cultures – lessons she frequently shares with her readers.

“I've taken a lot from my classes at AU, that there are some things in Egyptian culture that Americans might find completely strange – like the lack of road rules – that the culture here allows,” Eldahan says. “My thoughts are somewhat guided by my classes.” They are also guided by personal experience, she adds.

“The newspaper paid me, but that wasn't really why I decided to do it,” Eldahan says. “As we all know, things changed tremendously for Muslims and Arab Americans after 9/11. My dad is Muslim and I'm an Arab American, so I was definitely affected by it.”

No matter what the topic or motivation, both Eldahan and Aubin agree: the Web offers them the unprecedented opportunity to connect with readers.

And their readership, Aubin adds, means that they too must reflect about their emotions, assumptions, and worldviews. “My blog obligates me to think about what I’m doing over there and actually communicate it in a way that is understandable,” Aubin says.  “To figure out what that means is really important.”