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Featured essay by AYLP 2011 Participant, Katherine Bandy

“Algerians and Americans can be compared to couscous and steam. The process for packaging couscous is very strict and organized. Each bag is packaged in a certain way and is represented by distinct characteristics such as a serial number unlike any other. Like every bag of couscous, the Algerian students each had a different story. I first viewed the students from Algeria as a group and referred to them as a whole. It quickly became apparent that each student was an individual with their own unique personality. For example I really enjoy spending time with Khoula who liked Pokémon, anime, and ice cream cones and was very open to trying new things. Yazid loved cars and rock candy; however, he was resistant to engaging in unfamiliar activities and it took some persuasion before he would participate. Although they were in an unfamiliar country, the Algerian students did not hesitate to be themselves. No other event in my life has brought me more comfort and security in being myself than interacting with the students from Algeria.

Bags of couscous are delivered in similar ways yet the trucks take different roads and leave different trails. Although the Algerian participants were from the same general region and practice the Muslim faith, they did not all share the same values. Just like American teens, some were more dedicated to their customs and adhered to the strict practice of their religion while others did not. I realized that their family and upbringing greatly influence their choices.

Couscous cannot be judged based on where it is harvested; only what it can be made into by the ingredients that are added throughout the process. Meeting and spending time with the Algerian students taught me that regardless of where people come from, I cannot view people as a whole; that I cannot judge based on generalizations and that I must learn about the individual characteristics, beliefs, and experiences that shape each person.

My view of the world is different after participating in this program. Working with the Algerian students I learned that we are much more alike than different, and that when we view a person as a unique individual, we are more caring towards them. Just as Couscous requires steam to be prepared, we are more dependent on each other than we really think. I believe that if America continues to support other countries, it is imperative that as Americans we put aside our misconceptions and view people from other countries as individuals worthy of dignity and respect.”

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