"Reflections on Studying Abroad and Designing the Khamsa Logo" by Catherine Litten
It has been over seven years since I studied abroad with AMIDEAST. It has been over seven years since the January 25 revolution in Egypt. I had arrived in Cairo, Egypt in January 2011 to study at the American University in Cairo and a few weeks later ended up in Rabat, Morocco to join the AMIDEAST program there nearly one month and one evacuation later. I went into Morocco with no preparation, no research and a lot of confusion but I quickly fell in love.
If I had to distill the most lasting lesson I took from my time studying abroad, it is this: it is only the beginning. Studying abroad provides the opportunity to confront and challenge our perceived notions of how the world is. It has the ability to ask ourselves to question what is right, what is fair, what matters most and why does it matter. This continual confrontation of who and why we are should extend well beyond the time of our studies. I know for me it certainly did.
When I moved to Egypt in September 2012, I had a plan of what I wanted to do and who I wanted to become. As is the way of life, those plans changed. I found myself a sixth grade teacher, using art as a means to relax from what was an incredibly difficult job. I had maintained my connection to AMIDEAST - in spring 2012 I had interned with the AMIDEAST Abroad office in DC, and I remained friends with a number of the staff. They had all come to Cairo for meetings and we met up on a rooftop in the heart of Cairo, discussing a million things. As an intern, I had done some small graphic designs for them. I am not a graphic designer by any stretch of the imagination, but I love being creative and making things. Somehow a decision was made that I would design some new stickers for them to use in marketing materials.
Between teaching 6th grade, tutoring adults in English language, watching Egypt rush towards a military-backed coup, and questioning what I thought I wanted my future to be, I bounced between a number of designs. Should I focus on the geography of the region? The shared language? The culture? But how do you focus on the culture when each country is made up of so many different cultures? How do you embody it without diminishing the vibrancy of the cultures you wish to honor in a little design?
That’s how the khamsa design, seen for the past few years on different bits of swag at AMIDEAST Abroad functions came to be. The khamsa is known throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Mediterranean countries as a symbol of protection and blessings, meant to ward off the gaze of the evil eye. By using the khamsa as the basis of my little design, I hoped to pay homage to my time in the region and continued relationship with it, as well as offer some good luck and blessings to those who choose to study with AMIDEAST. May it protect you from malevolent glares, whether they are born from ignorance or arrogance, by others or by yourself. May it bless your journeys - the one you travel to and the one that travels within you.
May we all accept the challenge of examining our various cultures as an adventure that never ends.