Walid Asmar is a junior and international studies major at Queens.
Originally from New York, Asmar comes from a diverse background - his dad is Palestinian and Puerto Rican and his mom is from Nicaragua. Last summer he stayed with family in Palestine, immersing himself in the language and culture for two months.
While most Queens students wait until their junior year to take part in language immersion through the John Belk International Program, Asmar wanted to learn about his Palestinian roots on his own terms.
Over the summer he attended the Birzeit School to become more fluent in Arabic, Palestine's main language.
One of Asmar's professors at the Birzeit School, Sa'd Nimr, was one of the youngest leaders of the peaceful movement of the First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation from 1987 to 1993. He spent five years in an Israeli prison for being a political activist and is also highly involved with the secular and ruling party in Palestine, known as Fatah.
"I learned so much from Professor Nimr; he was an inspiration for me to become more involved in teaching people about the Arabic culture," said Asmar.
While overseas, he realized the unrelenting problems Palestinians face daily. One town over from where Asmar stayed, the water was cut off for two months, and there was limited access to wells. Asmar was surprised at how positive everyone stayed despite their hardships.
"It really touched me seeing how happy everyone was," said Asmar. "The citizens are always smiling and have positive energy that lifts you up."
Another realization Asmar had while studying abroad was that some people have stereotypes of different cultures and faiths that may be wrong.
"I want to unite people of different faiths at Queens and in the Charlotte community." Asmar said.
To work toward this goal, Asmar is in the process of establishing Shalom Salam, an organization to promote awareness about Christian, Muslim and Jewish religions. Shalom means peace in Hebrew and Salam means peace in Arabic. Asmar hopes to end confusion about religious differences between these cultures by holding events at Queens, Temple Bethel, and the Muslim American Society of Charlotte.
Asmar still stays in touch with friends he made in Palestine via Facebook and Twitter. This summer, he is traveling to Vietnam through the JBIP program in an effort to become even more culturally knowledgeable.