Global experiences have the power to make students better world citizens, enabling them to develop greater respect for cultures different than their own. International travel can also enlighten someone in their formative years, and encourage them to better appreciated the daily life we enjoy in the United States.
Travel to distant lands necessitates that we take a more thoughtful approach to normally routine behaviors like getting dressed in the morning, so as to not offend local cultural sensibilities. But former UNE student Marissa Simoes learned so much more than that on her trip to Cairo, Egypt—a place that left an indelible mark on her soul, and a tattoo on her left shoulder.
The inscription is ornate, but the word is simple: “Egypt”—she will always remember it as the place where she started a journey that opened her eyes to the world.
“It completely changed the way I view everything, from what’s important in life, to who I am as a woman, to what I want to do with the rest of my days,” Simoes explained.
Simoes, a 2010 graduate of UNE's departments of Political Science and English, is currently a televison producer at Boston's FOX 25, following stints at NBC affiliate WCSH6/WLBZ2 in Maine and ABC affiliate WTEN in Albany, New York.
She first visited the Middle East as an undergraduate at UNE, as the University’s Global Education Program helped coordinate an opportunity for her to volunteer teaching English to teenagers in Jordan. She returned after graduation in 2010, enrolling at the American University at Cairo, where she studied the Arabic language for two months. One of her professors there told her that she had “Egyptian eyes” and said that she could see reflected in them Simoes' love for Egypt, its people and its culture. “She took to jokingly calling me the daughter of the Nile,” Simoes recalled.
On the last day of classes, a fellow student whom she barely knew said she heard that Marissa was looking for an excuse not to travel back to the U.S. quite yet, and asked if she would like to join her and another student on a backpacking trip—they were leaving the next day. She agreed to join them, and recalls it as the most fun she’s ever had.
Their journey of a couple of months began in a very American way—they met at a McDonald’s restaurant in Cairo. From there, they traveled up through the Sinai, across into Aqaba, Jordan, and then they spent a few nights in the Wadi Rum desert. Then their travel took them to Palestine and Israel and then onto Cyprus. From Cyprus, she traveled around Turkey before finally returning to Egypt.
One of her “10 million” favorite experiences while backpacking was having lunch in a cave in Petra with a family of Bedouins, whom she describes as secret inhabitants who live in the caves, selling random items to tourists and offering “naturally air-conditioned” donkey rides.
Simoes and her travel companions stumbled upon the cave while looking for refuge after wandering the desert in unbearably hot conditions. They worried that they had found a part of the desert utterly devoid of all life. But upon entering the cave they found three adults and a child very much alive who were not only happy to see them, but eager to share their company and some tea.
“The mother of the little boy hobbled over to the corner of the cave and set fire to some desert brush she had brought in. She built a small make-shift stove out of rocks and placed a pot of tea on top of it. After the tea had boiled, she poured each of us small glasses,” Simoes explained.
Though they didn't share a common language, the group shared a midday meal. Pita bread, cheese and hummus might sound like a modest lunch, but for Simoes, her travel companions, and the cave dwellers, it carried special meaning. The meal reminded them that people are essentially alike, bound by their shared humanity, regardless of nationalities, boundaries and other limitations.
Simoes' life-changing journey began at UNE, took her to Egypt, and then brought her home to launch a successful career in a challenging field that values employees who possess a global perspective. Though she is working and thriving in the United States now, Egypt remains in her heart and in her eyes.