[Arab student from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in South Korea comes to Puebla for her international experience.]
Alia Tared Ali Ebrahim Arabi is a peculiar student because of the cultural mix she has developed, she is majoring in Environmental Sciences in Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in South Korea, but she comes from Bahrein, a sovereign insular state in Asia, situated at the coast of the Persian Gulf; and now, she comes to Mexico and specifically to Puebla and UPAEP to spend one semester for an academic exchange.
Tell us a little bit about you. How do you become an international person before leaving your home country?
My parents met in Thailand. My mom comes from there and my dad is Arab, from Bahrein; my environment has always been mixed internationally speaking. When I was a child, my dad was always working which made me spend a lot of time with my mom and her foreign friends, her best one is half American and half Filipino; maybe that is the reason why that I can speak English now.
There were three languages while growing up, Thai, English and Arab; I was fluent in Thai since all the time I was with my mom; but nowadays, I forgot a little bit. Speaking and understanding is ok, but not like it used to be.
Not everybody has that chance. Do you think that your international background has helped you to keep an open mind?
It definitely did. Arabs, especially those from older times used to be very close minded, having a foreign mom and growing up in a foreign environment helped me to see very different aspects in their lives, their food and knowing different languages. A good example is recognizing some phrases in Filipino, the food, the words, etc.
Why did you decide to study in South Korea?
From the beginning I was an accepting person, being in a society or in a friends group was not my thing. For me, it was better to get to know people online. That is where I involved myself in South Korea, the people, the culture; K-pop and it motivated me to learn Korean. Before, I learnt by myself, but then I took a course and the professor told me that the South Korean embassy was giving a scholarship. Although I sent my application a little bit late, I was accepted.
It was not in my mind what would I do if I was accepted or that I would have to go to Korea; it was more of: what will be, will be.
What are the cultural differences between Bahrein, Thailand and South Korea?
I can say that I do not get through the process of culture shock; adaptability is very easy. However, before going somewhere, some research is necessary to know what to expect. Nevertheless, Bahrein is a little close minded, so if I compare it to Thailand, the difference is huge. Thailand tends to be very liberal for a night life, women, parties and loads of fun. Maybe that is the reason why a lot of people from Bahrein go to Thailand, especially men.
Korean culture is quite reserved and not so broadminded. In spite of this, I believe is changing; they have night life and parties, but not as many as Thailand; you need to know where to go.
What happened in South Korea that made you come to Mexico?
My first semester at HUFS was kind of scary because it was the first time of going to the University, different environment, and different language and surrounded by people of a different culture. Once I arrived, there was an exchange group; since all of them came from abroad, we became friends and at least 5 of them were Mexican. I got used to go out with them most of the time and it was a good friendship. Therefore, every semester I found myself always looking for Mexican people since at the end, they let me with such a good impression. That is the reason why I came, to visit them, not only for an academic exchange. Since my dad is a little overprotective, my international academic experience was the perfect excuse. If I did not do it this way, I would have probably never had his permission to come and visit them.
You say that you always do some research before visiting a new place. Nowadays, the situation in Mexico is not the best when it comes for looking for references. How do you convince you family to come here with that kind of information?
For me it was never dangerous, I found a lot of Youtube videos with local people, gorgeous places and I showed to my dad, but it was not enough to persuade him. As a result of that, I knew I had to do something else. That is why I applied for an exchange without my parents knowing and once I was accepted, I gave them the news.
My mom was against it because of all the insecurity situation and drug trafficking, women rapping and even natural disasters like earthquakes. Especially in Puebla with the volcano; my dad is always alert and whenever he hears about volcano exhalations or little earthquakes, he texts me and asks me how I am doing; sometimes I am not even that alert.
How was your arrival at Mexico?
Once I was here it was very curious. The airport did not look so well taken care of or pretty like I thought. The big issue was the wifi, I was around an hour without being able to communicate, I had a situation with migration and some visa problems. They took me to an investigation room and stayed there for around 40 minutes explaining why I was in Mexico, that I am a student until they finally let me out.
After that, I was looking for someone who will lend me his cellphone to contact the friend that was going to pick me up; I asked several persons but no one wanted to. I was exhausted and just wanted to go home after 30 hours flying. At the end, I decided to give it one last shot and asked a man who I would never thing would help me because of how he looked. He was the only one who said yes and even took me with his friends so I could wait until my friend arrived.
What about your first days in Puebla?
The first days I was nearby Angelopolis neighborhood and liked it a lot. But arriving to UPAEP dormitories was surprising because they are outside the main campus and my expectations were high. In South Korea, the dormitories have a complete bathroom inside your room but not here; the rooms also let the noise go inside and at the beginning it was very difficult to sleep; Hankuk campus looks better but if I have to choose, I would still stay in UPAEP because of the warmth if the people; they always made me feel like I belong here.
What about your courses in UPAEP and the academic difference?
My courses are about my undergraduate program. The only difference is that in UPAEP you have Environmental Engineering and at HUFS is Environmental Science; my studies include Alternative Energies; Climate Change and its effects; Artificial Intelligence and Spanish.
So far, my favorite is Climate Change because the schedules allows me not to wake up at 7am and even though my lectures are with almost the same people, the time difference can really make a change in the class environment.
The main difference between my lectures is that Bahrein professors are very serious, feared and respected; you cannot joke with them; it is the same in South Korea, there are jerarquies because they are considered prominent figures. Nevertheless, in Mexico are very friendly and easy to talk to.
Have you experience any culture shock?
I believe that people from Bahrein and Mexico can really get along. We have many similarities and even though our religions are not the same, culturally speaking, food and physiognomy are.
I like it here because I look like any other Mexican, but my only culture shock is that I am not able to wear shoes inside the houses and cannot sit on the floor.
Another cultural topic is the food; I cannot eat pig because of my religion and here you have a lot of dishes with it; although I was very excited to try Arab and pastor tacos because they look a lot to an Arab dish and they smell pretty good, it was disappointing to know they have pig meat and it made me really sad. Nevertheless, I really love barbacoa and red pipian, the flavor is exquisite. I tried them in very different places, but the best are the ones that my friend’s mom cooks.
On the other hand, my mom is the queen of spicy and that has given me a big resistance to the Mexican food. Therefore, it is not something that I am not able to handle.
Have you had any bad experience here?
My only bad one was that I was sick for two weeks from my stomach; I could not go anywhere without having a bathroom nearby and it was horrible; even though UPAEP’s clinic gave me some pills, eventually they never knew what it was.
What would you say to those who are thinking about studying abroad?
That is a big recommendation that I would give to everybody, it is an experience that changes you, living in another country. For me, going to South Korea helped me to be more independent and open mind. Coming to Mexico is a big suggestion that I can give. Unfortunately, nowadays I am regretting even more coming here because since I got so used to it, it will be extremely hard to leave. I was warned about this; falling so much in love with the country, that departing will be tough. In South Korea sometimes I get to feel a little bit lonely, which is another reason why I wish not to go back just yet.