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Rasha enjoys the fresh breeze at Kuwait's corniche.
Rasha enjoys the fresh breeze at Kuwait's corniche.

East meets Middle East

Chinese students recall learning Arabic and enjoying machboos diyay in Kuwait

Traveling all the way from China, two Chinese girls in their early 20s, who chose “Dima” and “Rasha” as their Arabic names, lived in Kuwait for nearly a year to pursue their Arabic language studies at Kuwait University. Thousands of kilometers away from their homeland, this country helped them break the language barrier and brought them closer to a culture they previously knew very little about. “All I knew were stereotypes about Arabs, such as that they are just rich people,” Dima said.

Although easily recognized as foreigners, the two girls never felt like strangers in Kuwait. “I felt embraced, and nobody ever gave me strange looks here,” Dima shared. On weekends, they enjoyed exploring the streets of Kuwait as regular citizens, with their preferred spots being The Avenues mall and Souq Mubarakiya.” Dima especially loved ordering machboos diyay, her favorite dish.

Deeply immersed in Kuwaiti heritage, she shared her fascination with the bedouins and desert lifestyle in Kuwait. “What I loved most about Kuwait is how much pride its people hold in their ancient culture, such as preserving their tribal communities and their camels until this day.”

Regarding her interest in the Arabic language, Dima added: “I loved how the same word in Arabic can hold many different meanings.” Unlike the Chinese script, which uses characters to represent words, she liked that Arabic uses an alphabet to do so.

Beyond theoretical knowledge and books, they had the opportunity not just to practice the language properly in Kuwait, but also to exchange ideas about global topics and contrasting perspectives. Rasha noted that in China, almost everyone shares similar beliefs and ideologies, which sometimes limits their mindsets. “But here, the huge difference between the two cultures has really broadened my horizons, as it taught me a lot more about Arab people’s behaviors and attitudes,” she said.

Their daily routine in Kuwait usually started with waking up at 6 am, riding the bus from their dorm in Kaifan to Kuwait University’s branch in Shuwaikh or Shadadiya, and returning home in the afternoon to study. Dima enjoyed the festive ambiance of Kuwait during Ramadan and Eid, especially the decorations on the streets, which also introduced her to Islamic traditions such as praying and fasting. However, the roads were a new experience for her. “There are so many highways here,” she said. “People drive very fast, which usually scared me when crossing the road.”

Despite the roads, Dima holds deep affection for her time in Kuwait. “I would love to return to Kuwait for the lovely memories I had there. Everyone was so friendly to me. I got to know Arabs much deeper, and if I hadn’t traveled to Kuwait, I wouldn’t have learned so much about them. I wish more people from China could get this chance too,” she said.

Similarly, Rasha feels grateful for this one-year stay, as it helped her master the Arabic language, which she now uses every day in her customer service job. Yet, she said: “One visit to Kuwait is enough for me because it was too hot there! There was a 15- or 20-degree temperature difference between China and Kuwait.”

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