“You are studying in a giant political science lab.” That’s what my academic director said to us a few nights ago as we were sitting down eating dinner.
Tunisia underwent a revolution in 2011 to become a democracy. Changes are happening all over the country, but change is also slow and democracy takes time. Throughout this week I have been introduced to the Tunisia that I will get to know during my time here. The program I am studying with is called SIT(School for International Training). One reason I chose this program is because they have a strong emphasis on experiential learning. A big part of that is at the end of my time here I will complete a month-long independent study project.
The way SIT operates is that during the first week students stay together in a hotel and move in with their host families the following week. For me that’s today! But more on my family later.
There are eight students on the program, including myself. There are actually two students who study in PA, one at Gettysburg College and one at University of Pittsburgh. About half of us speak Arabic and half of us speak French and we come from a wide variety of majors, from sociology, anthropology, economy, global studies and political science. I’m looking forward to getting to know my classmates more.
This past week had been all about getting to know our surroundings. We have visited Carthage and La Marsa, suburbs of Tunis. The SIT study center is in Sidi Bou Said, which is where we have been staying this week. It is a beautiful town.
The view from a hill overlooking Sidi Bou. It’s hard to tell in this picture but the entire town is white and blue. The idea came from a Frenchman who moved to Tunisia in the early 1900s. He paid people to paint their houses blue and white in order to make the town more Mediterranean. Today, houses must be painted white with either blue or white doors and the municipality must approve the colors.
Besides walking around Sidi Bou and the surrounding suburbs, not too much had happened this week. We were given a schedule for the first month of school and we discussed our expectations and fears.
So far, Tunisia is what I expected. It feels very much like a Mediterranean country. The food is a mix of Italian, French and other Mediterranean influences. People also dress very fashionably here. Women can wear shorts and tank tops, although there are also women who chose to wear a headscarf. This is something new in Tunisia because before the revolution you would not have seen any woman wearing a headscarf.