Experiencing a Foreign Country Is Like Time Travel

The popular novels and television series “Outlander,” about a woman from the 20th century “falling through time” to 18th century Scotland, France, Jamaica and America reminded me of my own experience of travel, falling back into an exotic, enchanting land of deep history and culture, Turkey, where citizens revered the Ottoman Empire.

And then, after two years, falling forward into a high-tech world of a country less than 50 years old, the United Arab Emirates, where citizens have little sense of history or of a past before the country’s founding in 1971. The country barely existed in the days before skyscrapers, freeways, the Internet, a globalized culture, and residents from dozens of nations. They take for granted startling architecture, the obsession with digital technology, the lack of roots to the past.

Sometimes in the UAE, I imagined I had landed in the ultimate modern nation, circa 2100, where national identity, in terms of where I came from, no longer mattered much. Yes, as an American I still found some “cousins”  — Brits, Scots, Irish, Germans, Dutch,  Scandinavians, Russians, French, Australians, South Africans, Mexicans, Argentinians, Ecuadorians most sympathico — but I also developed friendships with Indians, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, Vietnamese, Egyptians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Turks, East and West Africans, and Indonesians. It was not so much a melting pot as a cultural smorgasbord.

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