Raghda Shaheen: Bridging Two Worlds – America and the Middle East

Raghda Shaheen, who works for the Dubai International Finance Centre, recently completed a four-week business and legal fellowship program at Wharton and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. The program, funded by the U.S. Department of State Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and supported by America-Mideast Educational and Training Services (AMIDEAST), teaches management, business and legal skills to women from the Middle East and North Africa. This year, 22 women from 11 countries attended the program. Shaheen will spend the next three months working at the Chicago Chamber of Commerce before returning to the UAE. She spoke with Knowledge at Wharton about her experiences in Gaza City, Canada, the U.S. and the Middle East.

“I find a lot of stereotypes about Arab women that I would like to break and about Arabs in general here in the States, because [most people] receive their [impressions] from the media,” said Shaheen at one point during the discussion. “We all know that the media can be biased at certain times and does not reflect the correct image of the culture. So I came here to experience the American culture by myself through my [own] eyes, not through someone else’s eyes.”

The image that Americans have of Arab women, she added, is that they “may not be educated, that they’re suppressed, that they can’t work, they don’t speak, they are not cosmopolitan. So I try with [other program participants] to break that stereotype. We tell them that Arabs in general, not just women, usually speak two languages at a minimum. We speak English as a second language in my country. There are other places in the Middle East, such as Lebanon and Syria, that speak French as a second language. The exposure to the West is very high in the Middle East, probably because of the political situation and the geographical location of that area. So we already know about other countries and civilizations out there in the world.”

As for her impressions of life in America, Shaheen notes that “the media, to a certain degree, exposes you to the American streets, environments and buildings. So when we went to New York, most of us felt that we had there before. We saw the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. You feel that you’ve been on the streets of New York even if you’ve never been there because you always see it on TV. So that’s what increasing the exposure; it’s the technology. Believe it or not, the political problems are playing a good part here because we have to learn about what’s happening out there in the world. Most of the political situation in the Middle East is highly related to the U.S. So that’s why we’re highly exposed and are learning a lot about you.”

To see the whole discussion, click here.

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