When I was first told about this assignment, I honestly did not like it at all. I had no idea what it was going to be like, and I did not like the fact that I was going to be talking to strangers for two hours four times a month. The idea itself was so uncomfortable to me, as I am a very quiet person and I find it difficult to open up and talk with people that I barely know. Hence, this experience was definitely a challenge to me, since the main purpose of Soliya is interacting and communicating with people from different cultures and backgrounds through a video conference.
I was not able to join them for the first session due to technical problems, which made it even more uncomfortable to me as this would have been where we all get to know each other and break the ice. From the second session onwards it worked and I can definitely now say that this was a very beneficial and interesting experience, unlike I suspected. Our moderator was very helpful and made sure that everyone contributed to the conversation. Luckily, I had a very fun and interactive team, who made this experience one of the best ones. We discussed topics such as climate change, stereotypes and sexual taboos. Each one of us shared his thoughts regarding each topic in relation to his culture and personal beliefs. We were 6 people in the group, two Egyptians, one Swedish, one Tunisian, one Mexican, one American and an Italian. Hence, our point of views weren’t always the same, which made the conversations even more interesting. The most impactful conversation we had in my opinion was during the last session regarding sexual taboos. We were all very comfortable talking to each other, people started sharing very personal information about themselves, which made me understand them better. This topic lead to different routes like online dating, harassment and marriage. I actually was surprised when the Mexican and American girls said that they got harassed a lot for wearing shorts/ dresses in the street, I knew that harassment occurs in western countries, but I didn’t know that it was as common as they described it.
Soliya differs from other types of online communication in different ways. As the online communication that I am familiar with, such as Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram, connect me with people that I already know. However, Soliya connects us with people/strangers from all around the world, to exchange culture and knowledge. Also, the fact that it’s a video conference makes the communication more personal, helps us better understand each other and share our thoughts more easily and openly. The program provides us with an open space, where everyone can say and be whatever they want, unlike the other communication platforms. We can all see each other, we are the ones who chose the topics of discussion, hence, there was no room for judgments or misunderstandings.
Through my contribution in this program I discovered that I am definitely a media consumer. I didn’t initiate any topics nor asked a lot of questions, I mainly talked when someone would directly call me or when a question is asked. I don’t usually post a lot on my social media platforms as well, I only respond to people who mention me on a post and share content that I really like. Yet, I was definitely more interactive on Soliya, as I found the topics very stimulating and wanted to know the people more in order to get the best out of this experience. I also believe that the moderator’s way of making sure that everyone contributed, made me more comfortable. Also, the other Egyptian in the group, would always ask me if I agree with what he was saying after each argument, which made it easier for me to share my point of view.
I believe that in order to foster constructive communication both online and face to face, one must feel comfortable and safe. No one would share his thoughts if they feel that they will be judged or made fun of. I believe that the strategy our moderator used did in fact foster our communication. He gave us an hour each session to talk about a topic we chose without interrupting us. My team members were very supportive and respectful, they didn’t judge anyone and respected all the different point of views shared. We accepted our differences in fact we wanted to know more rather than just criticizing them. As a result, during the last session almost everyone shared very sensitive and personal information about themselves, including their sexuality, their religions and beliefs. Although these are supposed to be serious topics, the discussion was in fact very funny and enjoyable.
All in all, this was definitely a very memorable experience, it gave me the chance to get to know people around the world, while sitting in my room. It got me out of my comfort zone and added to my knowledge in many different ways. I would definitely recommend anyone to try it at least once.