Laura Alexeichik, interim assistant professor of recreation at Houghton College, recently participated in two desert expeditions in the country of Oman - located in the Middle East’s Gulf region - that aimed to promote dialogue between young people from European and Arab states. Alexeichik joined trips with the Connecting Cultures program in order to follow up research that she began during her doctoral work.
Connecting Cultures is an innovative program that targets young adults ages 18-25 from diverse backgrounds who are likely to become leaders and agents of change in their communities. In groups of roughly 20 people, these men and women spend nearly a week in a remote desert location where they can engage in intentional and distraction-free conversation about their respective cultures and global issues that transcend national borders, such as terrorism and international development. The goal of this dialogue is to “celebrate cultural diversity, break down stereotypes, identify shared values and in so doing promote understanding and help reduce the polarisation of cultures,” according to the Connecting Cultures website.
Alexeichik was invited to accompany expeditions in the Sharqiya Sands desert in January and February. The first group included 17 women from 15 countries, while the second included 19 men from 17 countries. Alexeichik hopes her experiences and observations will allow her to expand her doctoral research findings by creating “some longitudinal studies about the impact and influence of not just this program, but the importance of intercultural dialogue … and [being] immersed in an experiential learning environment.”
Connecting Cultures has gained significant international recognition since its foundation in 2004. Sponsored by the Sultan of Oman and formally endorsed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Connecting Cultures states that although its impact cannot be easily measured using quantitative standards, it “is easy to see; five days spent living and travelling together in the wilderness achieves far more than a two day workshop ever could in terms of depth of understanding.” The unique nature and promising results of this program have garnered it consideration for the Nobel Peace Prize.