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Exchange student discusses Tunisian culture

| Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Rahma Teyeb, an exchange student from Tunisia, shared the customs and traditions of her native country Tuesday as part of Saint Mary’s International Education Week.

Mana Derakhshani, director of the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership, said Saint Mary’s has an exchange program with Tunisian students every semester.

“She was able to come through a grant that allows this to happen,” Derekshani said. “We will always have one student from Tunisia at Saint Mary’s. … As part of this program, Rahma must present about her country on campus as well as off.”

Teyeb, who is studying business at the College for one year, is originally from Kelibia, a city in Tunisia with ancient origins. The country — located in the northeastern part of Africa, between Algeria and Libya — is known for its architecture and art, which Teyeb said have Mediterranean and Roman influences.

Tunisia has a population of about 11 million people, the majority of whom are Muslim and Jewish, Teyeb said. The country’s main languages are Arabic, French and English.

“I speak all of these and also speak German,” Teyeb said.

According to Teyeb, a recent revolution between 2010 and 2011 brought significant changes to Tunisia, which had particular implications for Tunisian women.

“Before the revolution, no one was covered,” Teyeb said. “The revolution brought us freedom of religious practice, and now 50 percent of women wear the hijab.”

Teyeb said Tunisian people value equality and love, as well as etiquette and respect. She said it is customary to ask strangers about their families and to kiss people on their cheeks as a gesture of hello and goodbye.

“In my country, it’s considered rude to not kiss or hug a stranger goodbye,” she added. “That has been an adjustment being in America.”

Tunisian people also value modesty — especially for women, who cover their bodies and heads with white dresses called “safsari,” Teyeb said.

“I am the only woman in the family that is fully covered,” she said. “I decided after the revolution to be covered. … That was around 2012, and [I] have been covered ever since.”

Teyeb said she has felt comfortable since coming to Saint Mary’s. She said students have been open-minded and accepting of their differences.

“Saint Mary’s has been an amazing community, and everyone is nice and kind in the way they greet each other,” she added. “I don’t feel judged at all coming here, and no one has questioned me about the way I dress or my culture. … I feel comfortable.”

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