Bryony Dillon is a student at UHI Perth where she is reading for an Honours Degree in Outdoor Education and Learning. She recently returned from a trip to Oman where she completed the Connecting Cultures course, a week-long journey that aims to teach, share and enlighten young people through intercultural dialogue. The course is organised by Outward Bound Oman, and endorsed by the United Nations, UNESCO and governments around the world.
Arriving in Oman at 4am, I was on my own and very tired. And my journey into the desert was due to begin just a couple of hours later! I had no idea what to expect, and the pressure was really on given the prestigious organisations involved.
The first two participants I met were lovely and very intelligent, and I soon found they both spoke Arabic and English (to name just some of their linguistic talents). But to start with, I found it incredibly embarrassing only being able to speak my native language. It felt so rude to arrive in such a beautiful country and expect others to speak English just so that I could partake in the dialogue of the week.
Luckily, after acknowledging this dilemma, I was greeted by a room full of strong, accepting and inspiring young women who eased my discomfort and fears. This was the beginning of a brand new journey, and I have never been so excited and apprehensive all at once…
We spent five days in the warm desert sun, walking for hours at a time in the soft, fall-away sand – chatting, laughing and learning from each other as we went. Gathering for short periods in the shade we discussed prominent subjects within the young world we live in today: extremism, the media and stereotypes to name just a few. These certainly were no light ponderings either, with debates – literally between countries – constant throughout. Debates that produced productive and thought-provoking conversations that led on late into the night. Well past all our bedtimes in fact, especially with the very early rises each morning!
These conversations were some of the most inspiring and open I’ve ever been a part of, and I can honestly say that at times they were intimidating. They challenged my own opinions and observations of civilisation; they allowed me to understand how privileged we are as a culture; and they helped me acknowledge the fact that not all of us are so lucky. However, not for a minute did I represent Scotland as the perfect model; far from it in fact. But being from a country that promotes individuality, democracy and its own sublime beauty, I did hopefully do Scotland justice…
By day five, a new friend from Lebanon announced, “I can’t quite believe that I’ll be going home without you all. It feels like we’re all from the same place now, and should be going home together.”
It was a poignant moment, realising that soon we would be back to a world full of so many misconceptions, devoid of thought. It felt almost personal now to hear of other people’s cultural struggles, in a world where we are all just human.
Back home in Scotland now, and having had time to absorb, consider and appreciate the opportunity and experiences I was gifted, I feel more empowered than ever to take our current culture closer to the change we need. A calmer, more accepting and less chaotic world of assumptions; closer to a world of knowledge and understanding. Although we are only one small group within the billions of bodies, we are a passionate one. With so much love for the world, we want to ensure it is understood, appreciated and protected.
A quote that became very significant in the final discussions in Oman really sums up the biggest lesson from my desert journey. It’s something that we can perhaps all live by, and it’s stuck with me ever since:
“If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito” (The Dalai Lama).