Soliya was definitely a new experience that added a lot to me, even though the number of sessions weren’t a lot. Firstly, the amount of diversity in the group wass astounding! There were participants from different regions of the world with different backgrounds and different stories to be told. For instance, even though I had 2 participants living in Italy, both had totally different experiences and stories that they shared with us, which shows the different perspectives and the different lives that can exist. Secondly, the topics we discussed were quite diverse, and the fact that the participants were the ones coming up with the topics was a great advantage. This is because it proposes some sort of freedom in our discussion, not like the typical class setting where the professors usually have set topics to be tackled. I also liked the fact that my group members, after a little while, were comfortable and open to discussing different issues openly. The discussion topics spectrum was quite wide, going from intense political and gender talks to more mellow talks about travel for example. These talks made me realize that stereotypes exist greatly and that people can make false conclusions about others without actually giving them a chance to portray their true selves or their true beliefs. For instance, some people did think that Egypt was nothing but a desert with camels and the pyramids, a stereotype that exists greatly. Another thing that I noticed was how open the group members were about their religious beliefs and how none of the members treated the other badly due to their belief. In fact, people were actually interested in other religions, especially Islam, and what it entailed; there was no hatred whatsoever. This shows that we could be wrong at times, since many Muslims believe that Western people hate them blindly all the time. Another important point to be mentioned is the fact that my entire group was completely females. This had its pros and cons. The only con is that this limited the diversity of the group and limited my ability to see a different perspective as well. For instance, it would’ve been nice if we could’ve heard a male’s opinion on certain issues regarding gender equality, which was a topic we discussed heavily during our sessions. However, the pros were very great. The most important one was the fact that we were quite comfortable together and we were able to have some “girl talk” without feeling embarrassed and without worrying that a guy wouldn’t be interested. There was also a session where the facilitator’s connection was out for some time, and after a while we found ourselves talking about attractive men all over the world. We were all amazed by how the conversation steered into that topic and we found it quite funny. This level of comfort never would’ve been there if there was a guy was in our group.
This program differs greatly from other online communication means and platforms. To begin with, I personally don’t communicate with people I don’t know online. I mainly use online communication to talk to my family members and close friends living abroad. Soliya offered me a means of meeting new people from across the globe. The only online platform I can think of that has great space for meeting people with different backgrounds from different parts of the world is Twitter (it doesn’t have a lot of restrictions like the other platforms and the privacy isn’t the greatest). However, I personally don’t use it much and therefore don’t get this type of exposure. It’s also important to mention that the online social platforms are very shallow. Twitter for instance doesn’t allow for the fast, back and forth communication between people. Better yet, it’s a platform that allows you to know people shallowly. Talking and typing are two totally different things. For instance, you can’t always predict the tone of a person typing you a message or a tweet, but with Soliya you could always tell what the person was feeling and what they were trying to say clearly. Also, the level of openness allows for the conversation to flow smoothly and in many different directions, which happens on online platforms but not as easily. Personally, I always prefer talking over texting since it’s a lot easier, faster, and clearer, and that’s why Soliya was perfect! However, I think if the session was maybe an hour and a half it would’ve been better; I felt two hours was a bit too long and sometimes we would reach a point where we didn’t know what to say anymore.
I’ve always been a very open and a sociable person, and I don’t really struggle with having conversations with people. However, upon entering the first session I felt a bit nervous since I didn’t know what I was getting into, who were the people with me, where were they from, how do they think, what were we going to talk about etc. but with the help of the facilitator, it was way smoother than expected. I was surprised to find myself very comfortable and very sociable on the online world as well. I was talking about myself and my experiences as openly as I would have if I were talking to people with my same background and culture. Also, there were times where the group wouldn’t initiate the talks and silence would take over, but fortunately I had a member in my group who was a good communicator and both of us would try to end the silence by talking about anything. I was quite happy with the fact that I was able to do that. I also figure that I’m very open to people with extremely different backgrounds. I always knew that I didn’t mind interacting with different people, but I never knew I would be that comfortable and actually that interested! The maximum exposure I got was when travelling abroad for holidays, but then again, the diversity level definitely does not compare. Furthermore, I believe that my personality has evolved over my university years, and still is. I’ve become a more open person, I know my beliefs very well now, and I’m open to others. I believe I fall on the intermediate cognitive, interpersonal, and intrapersonal scale when it comes to intercultural interactions. I don’t think Soliya pushed me into another level, but it definitely did help me view other perspectives and be more aware and open to others. I believe face to face interaction and communication would be a better means of improving one’s intercultural level.
I personally believe that the key to strong communication between people is the willingness to maintain relationships and the willingness to put in the effort and time. For instance, my best friend traveled abroad for her university studies four years ago, and we’re as closer as ever. This is because we both care about our friendship and therefore put the time and the effort into actually communicating regularly together. We always call each other online, text on a regular basis, and always meet up regularly when she’s back home. As I mentioned before, my group members in Soliya were very friendly, and some members actually said “if you ever come here give me a call and I’ll show you around”, and I personally do plan on doing so if I actually ever visit their cities. Another thing we did that I really liked is that we followed each other on social media platforms. This ensures that we’re going to be able to reach each other if we want to remain in contact together.