Reflecting on my work in the Middle East,particularly in the United Arab Emirates, I wanted to put words to some of my thoughts around cultural exchange. Specifically, around the impact, cultural exchange structures have on youth development and engagement.
Imagine a country, where around 80% of the population is an expat, living and working outside their home country . The UAE is one such country, possessing incredible diversity of culture and thought. This makes it an interesting place for children to grow up, raisingthe central question, what are we asking our children to be part of when they become young adults? Especially when there is such a variety in culture and opportunities.
This modular culture, if you will,presents opportunities for communities to come together and for the exchange of social capital between people. When I first began working in the UAE in the late ’90s, the Islamic practice of Majlis was commonplace. The term translates roughly to “council” and involves common interest groups gathering in a lounge where social, community, administrative, and religious discussions are had.These meetings often involve neighbourhoods coming together to discuss and debate problems they face.
I greatly enjoyed being a part of Majlisand saw the value they had for people of all ages. It is rare in Western cultures that entire communities come together to exchange ideas and opinions. However,as I alluded to, the traditional of Majlis has been lost as the rate and number of expats in the UAE has increased. As expats began running youth centres the opportunity for cultural exchange diminished as a more individualistic and western approach became commonplace.
By no means could any, one cultural practice be classed better or worse than another, however, it is important to recognize that culture is about understanding what works in a country and realizing that you can rely on what has worked in the past to carry into the future. Changing or replacing historic practices will often result in a loss of development and engagement, particularly for a countries youth. It takes a long time for social leavers to develop, so it is often better to learn about and build on existing leavers, rather than replacing them entirely. Food for thought.
1. UAE Population by Nationality. (2015). Retrieved 4 Apr 2021, from https://web.archive.org/web/20170321184658/http://www.bq-magazine.com/economy/socioeconomics/2015/04/uae-population-by-nationality
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