My typical summer day before the Manhattan Multicultural Summer Program began at 12:00 noon and consisted of watching as many movies I could and eating as much junk food as I could until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. I’m so glad that changed, although I must admit, at first the thought of waking up at 6 in the morning every day and taking an hour-long train ride made me groan. And I thought of the people around me. I was so scared. What if I said something totally stupid and ignorant that offends them? I wasn’t a discriminating person, but when it came to knowing about different cultures and religions, I was a bit lost. I wasn’t sure how to speak to them, how to address them, etc.

But when I met Tala, Eitan, Dina, Gwen, and Mahroo, I must say that I was totally wrong about what I had expected. All of them were so kind and charming that it blew me away. Tala, a Muslim from Palestine wearing a pink top and shorts, was very cheerful and passionate about her people. Eitan, a strict Jew, was plagued by indifference and negativity but was still a very funny and considerate person. Dina, from Madagascar, knew how to speak Malagasy, and was one of the most compassionate people I had ever met. Gwen, graduate from NYU, could stop an argument with anything she said. And Mahroo, a comforting person, who anyone would feel at ease to confide in if they need to. At first I was overwhelmed; so may new cultures! I was worried that Tala and Eitan would incessantly fight and that the largely Muslim portion of the group would bother the rest and I didn’t have a clue what Malagasy was. My sister and I, as Afghan-American Muslims whose parents had always preferred us to befriend people who had a similar culture to us, were so shocked but ready to open our minds, and ready to learn.

Tala and Eitan didn’t fight at all. It’s true, sometimes the arguments got a little heated, and sometimes one said something the other didn’t necessarily like, but when the discussion was over they smiled and spoke to each other in a friendly manner. I learned that in Madagascar students were taught to learn French, and their first language Malagasy was prohibited. And, also for the first time, I tried falafel (Tala’s favorite middle-eastern dish) and kosher food because Eitan was strict about religion and couldn’t eat anything unless it was kosher. Often times he went on without lunch because he had to keep up his strict kosher diet. If amazed me how much discipline it took to sit there quietly and hungrily while a group of people ate pizza and ice cream right in front of him. My friends are Jewish, and I never saw them limiting their diet to anything. That really brought up my respect for Eitan and his beliefs. And I used to complain to my mother about fasting during Ramadan. He has to limit things every day!

Overall, I learned so much from the program. Not only about the cultures around me, but about my own culture. I learned that it’s okay if someone has a different language than you, or doesn’t look, dress, or speak like you. We are all different, yes, but it’s our differences that should make us more connected. Learning about a variety of cultures such as what happened in the program could lead to an end in racism and discrimination. No one should have to keep their culture a secret, because it’s our different ways that keeps the world a colorful and vibrant place.



ALL human beings are born FREE and EQUAL in dignity and rights. 

-Universal Declaration of Human Rights