November 7, 2016 –  Nico B. spent the 2012 -2013 academic year in Egypt with AFS and participated in the 2015 Returnee Leadership Summit. Since his exchange year, he has also lived in Turkey with the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y), funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs…read his account on his life in Egypt.

Nico’s Life in Egypt

My decision to study abroad in Egypt was driven because of my childhood fascination with its ancient culture, interest in learning Arabic, and a desire to foster greater understanding between American and Islamic cultures.

My first few days there were intense sensory overloads, as I was simultaneously beginning an adventure I had dreamed of for four years and attempting to process the reality of finding myself in such a different place from my home country. That being said, Egypt immediately struck me as being a vibrant place populated by many warm and culturally varied people.

However, I did struggle to fit in due to appearing very obviously foreign, and I had a hard time feeling at home as a result. My host family helped a lot, and from the first day they made me feel like both a brother and a son and ensured that their home was a safe space for me.

Nico’s photo of the Pyramids of Giza

I left Egypt with a heightened resilience and stronger cultural awareness. I have been able to dispel cultural stereotypes surrounding the Muslim community, and I feel that after adapting to a culture as different as Egypt’s, I can feel comfortable anywhere.

If there was one thing about Egypt that I would want everyone to know, it would be that the culture exists on giant spectrums. The population varies on enormous sliding scales of religious and political beliefs, and as such it is virtually impossible to make broad overgeneralizations of such a variable and intricate culture.

Nico with his host mother and oldest host brother

What #AFSEffect means to Nico

The #AFSEffect to me means bringing the world together through people and their experiences, and working to foster cultural understanding. I experienced this most of all at the AFS Returnee Leadership Summit in 2015, where I bonded with numerous AFS returnees and discovered remarkable commonalities in all of our experiences, as well as a universal commitment to improving the world we live in.

I currently study modern languages and international relations. My AFS experiences have certainly played an instrumental role in following this path, by allowing me to explore and develop my linguistic passions, as well as to better understand how cultures and national identities are intertwined and related to each other.

I think it is important for returnees to continue volunteering because it can be very therapeutic in the reentry process, and can present opportunities to connect with and help exchange students through the same trials they faced. The Returnee Leadership Summit in particular presents a unique and priceless chance to bond with fellow returnees, find a place among fellow exchange alumni again for those who may not have access, and to be offered means to benefit and advance the AFS mission of bringing the world together.