Karim El-Araby: The Balance of Character

It’s not uncommon for immigrants to have an identity crisis, and Karim El-Araby knows that story all too well. But with the challenges of starting a new life in the U.S. comes the opportunity to blend with so many other cultures and create a new, blended identity of your own. This story is part of MALA’s scholarship essay contest. To see more scholarship essays, click here.

I knew from the beginning how it would feel to be an Egyptian American. I knew I would be living with a dual identity in a place where people similar to me are rarely found. Most recently I had to check myself as “white” in my college application because that was the only option as a Middle-Eastern American.

Since arriving in northern Virginia, my understanding of my own identity has been clarified, as has my understanding of identity itself. I have thought about the many identities I use to describe myself: Egyptian, American, Muslim, twin brother, college student, aspiring architect, bilingual. When I speak Arabic with my twin brother, people are interested in knowing more. That has been a common occurrence during my college career in a community college that includes students from 180 countries. I believe the reason people are curious is that people in the U.S. been living in an increasingly diverse culture in the United States. Subconsciously and consciously, people are interested in exploring different cultures other than the traditional, American, Western culture.

I have heard before that some personality aspects change when bilinguals switch the language they are speaking. I found this interesting and applicable to me, but I have tried to keep my promise to my friends and loved ones in Egypt to not change. My parents have raised me and built my character. They taught me to be proud of my identity and beliefs and not to allow the characters of the others around me to change any of these things. Therefore, I’ve learned the difference between identity and character: identity essentially shapes an individual’s components, while character allows one component to be dominant over the other.

My promise to my Egyptian loved ones meant that I would not allow one characteristic of my identity to shadow the other: I will keep existing as an Egyptian, a Muslim, committed and cheerful as I have been. Living with only my twin brother, 6,000 miles away from my family could change my character, but I have not let it. Changing my character would make me a foreigner in my 11-year-long homeland of Egypt, but having myself not weaving myself enough in the American culture would make me another type of foreigner. There had to be a balance, and that was the challenge.

Meeting Egyptians (and Arabs in general) in the U.S. always makes me excited. Again, I want to create an aesthetically balanced fabric of identities. However, I am pleased when I go to the mosque every Jumaa and see all the Muslim people keeping their Muslim faith studded and strong, not allowing the American lifestyle to shadow their beautiful belief. This is one of the main reasons why I refounded the Muslim Student Association with others on my campus. The warm welcome I receive from all Americans, Arabs and Muslims have enhanced my desire to reveal my thoughts and character more to the community I am surrounded by.

As cliché as it might sound, we are all equal. What difference does origin make at the end of our lifetime? I uphold the ideal of racial indifference more as time passes; that is because I can’t simply identify a race of my own: I chose “white” in my college application since it was merely the closest option.