LISLE, Ill., Aug. 22, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Asma Al-Sammarraie is a personable 20-year-old woman pursuing a medical degree. The slender, unassuming articulate student is outspoken about health care and women's rights. However, she is also street smart and knows what she says during discussions in America might very well get her killed in her home country of Iraq.
"Back home you fear for your life a lot because you are different from the others. And everyone is different back home. You will always find people that consider you their enemy and might attack you, hurt you," said Al-Sammarraie, who is a participant in the U.S. Department of State's Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) at Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill. – one of only six U.S. universities to host this program, which trains students as leaders to advance social reforms in the Middle East and North Africa.
This summer, Benedictine hosted 22 students from the Middle East and North Africa for an intensive program of leadership training and civic responsibility in a democratic society as part of its ongoing effort to facilitate open dialogue among diverse groups.
Al-Sammarraie copes daily with the potential of violence toward her by being savvy with whom she communicates and how she communicates.
"You try to steer clear of turbulent waters. You try not to pick quarrels with other people," she said. "You might find a lot of them unhappy with who you are. It's not the way it is in the United States. Everyone accepts other people for who they are and they never try to enforce their own beliefs."
However, MEPI participant Najma Koursi, 21, of Tunisia, was quick to challenge Al-Sammarraie's utopian view of America.
"You are saying it like it was heaven here. What I saw was that people here did not want health care for other people," said Koursi, who added that Tunisia provides free health care for all its citizens.
Benedictine encourages such zealous discourse and believes it's a positive step toward improving relations between diverse cultures who normally would not interact. It also demonstrates the freedom each student feels to openly express opinions while in America – a freedom that is nonexistent or precarious in their home countries.
Read more about the discussions at ben.edu/MEPI.
SOURCE Benedictine University