My father was abducted in April 2014 and his disappearance shook my family. Nevertheless, I made it to a master’s degree program in applied linguistics at the University of Benghazi. In the fall of 2019, I was on a semester break. I had a job working as an editor for a local news website and I was looking after my family’s day-to-day needs. Five years into my father’s abduction—an all-too-common occurrence in Libya—we were unable to find out his whereabouts or who was responsible for taking him.
Libya was still torn apart by the civil war that has made it impossible for much of the country’s population to move forward in any productive manner. Becoming frozen in time and place like this was difficult for a 25-year-old who has always dreamed of exploring the world.
But I had reluctantly accepted my circumstances and the responsibility for being the sole breadwinner of my family of six. I had no choice but to give up on many dreams, including travel abroad.
Before my semester break ended, a professor at my university announced a call for participation in a new virtual project, the global nonprofit organization Soliya’s Connect Program, which seeks to build meaningful relationships among university students across national, cultural, religious, and ideological boundaries. The program is co-sponsored by the Stevens Initiative, which seeks to grow virtual exchange programs across the Middle East and North Africa.
About 100 other students and I were told that this program, the first of its kind to operate in Libya, would connect us virtually with students from the United States and the Middle East and North Africa region. I instantly applied to join the program. I felt like I could fulfill my yearning for cultural exploration.
Soon, from the comfort of my home, I was in dialogues with students from other countries about a wide range of issues, from education to cultural differences to media representation to gender equality. We even discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (See a related article, “Beyond Facebook: Deeper Online Cultural Exchange.”)