First day of classes, while discussing the course syllabus; I thought that Soliya would be the hardest part of the course. Wouldn’t it be awkward? Spending 2 hours weekly with people I don’t even know? What are we even going to talk about? My head was full of questions that I did not get the answers to until the first soliya session. On my first meeting, I was actually nervous to the extent that I got everything ready thirty five minutes before the time slot. The experience turned out to be so different than what I thought; I actually enjoyed getting exposed to people that I have nothing in common with. This was something very unusual to my personality; I usually surround myself with a circle that is similar to me and this is where I feel the most comfortable. This new experience in itself was very flourishing and an eye opener for me in a lot of different aspects. I think that the dialogue of the connect express program is very organized and engaging. The facilitators always made sure to get everyone to talk and not to leave anyone behind; this in my opinion is the competitive advantage that connect express has over any other online communication platform. The fact that the topic of every session is chosen by the participants in itself is a very positive aspect about the connect program; where everyone is willing to participate since the conversations are within the interest of the participants. Soliya helped me discover a lot about myself; I’ve always thought of myself as a communicator but only within my comfort zone. The past few weeks helped me realize that I could also communicate out of my safezone; it turns out interesting conversations get out the talkative part of me! I realized that I like to share even small things in the conversations; for example if I agree with what someone else said I like mentioning that I agree. I think by doing that the conversation becomes more intimate and people start sharing more because it is more comfortable to talk with people that share the same views as you right?
Soliya helped me learn how to engage in constructive conversations by asking the right questions that would allow deep meaningful discussions. I’ve also learned that listening is the key in any constructive discussion; in order to speak you have to listen first. One has to take the time and understand the other’s point of view in order to engage in meaningful conversations such as the ones we’ve had in every soliya session. The good thing about these sessions was that we also learned how to manage online and offline conversations; it was very interesting to discuss the differences between the two methods and how the online world has changed the conversation styles in comparison to the old traditional face to face conversations. I remember one activity where the facilitator asked us to draw the animal that she was describing; we all assumed she was describing an elephant, however if we have listened clearly we would’ve realized that it is an Aardvark. This helped to not judge a book by its cover, listen to what someone has to say before building a whole image in your head that might be distorted or incorrect.
I can not count the times where we had similar discussions in class to the ones we’ve had during the Soliya sessions; for example the topics of discrimination, stereotypes and how people are treated differently according to something that has to do with their ethnicity. We had already discussed these topics deeply in class, however it was all in the African context. The Soliya conference made me look at these topics from a broader view; through the eyes of people from other ethnicities and other groups. Seems like all people all over the world face the same issues, not just us in the Middle East! We also discussed how expectations can sometimes lead to bad results; reminded me of the article about education systems and grade and how these social norms of getting an A to become successful and well respected. I personally think the course content and Soliya both complement each other in a way that gives us a constructive overview of the material!
I am planning on having a semester abroad in the near future, I think Soliya has been a great start and a solid ground for this upcoming experience. I have gotten more interculturally mature to accept other people’s views and beliefs that are different to mine. I think I have become better at my cognitive domain according to King & Baxter Magolda ; I might not be an expert or a hundred percent mature according to this domain, but maybe the semester abroad would help me reach this level? I am always so convinced with my personal views or beliefs, the ability to shift perceptions is a skill I hope to master one day!
As a whole, I think Soliya has helped me experience a lot of what I would have number been exposed to in class. Even though sometimes I got bored through the session because it was too long; at the end of the day it was very beneficial to my social and intellectual skills. One improvement that I would like to suggest would be to have shorter sessions, maybe one hour? I know a lot of content is discussed and we need the time to deeply engage in such conversations, but why not have two sessions a week rather than just one long session? Other than that I think I wouldn’t change anything else about this experience because it has definitely helped me grow!