Fostering Intercultural Understanding - Outward Bound

Fostering Intercultural Understanding

My Course, Life after OB

First year university student Dima Alsheikh recently completed an Outward Bound ‘Southern Cross’ course; her experience was so profound she is passing the baton on to her younger siblings in the hope they too will discover there is 'more in them'.

Born in Baghdad, Dima and her family emigrated to New Zealand three years ago, when she was 18.

“Iraq was experiencing many conflicts and wars, it was 2006 and I was seven when my parents decided to move to Syria, which was a beautiful and safe place to live for a while, but quickly became dangerous because it was so close to Iraq and we needed to leave. The decision was made to come to New Zealand,” explains Dima.

While her family remains in Auckland, Dima relocated earlier this year to Dunedin to study Health Science at Otago University. She enrolled in the Outward Bound course to learn and explore aspects of her “new home”.

“A family friend told me everyone in New Zealand wants to do an Outward Bound course. She also told me it is physically demanding and that my phone will be taken away for 21 days! But I wanted to push myself physically as well as mentally. I have lived most of my life in a third world country where it is dangerous and basics like water and electricity are not readily available. While you also go without similar things at Outward Bound, feeling secure and being in a safe environment meant I could enjoy the experience and all the challenges.”

“I gained lots of confidence, being social and making new friends. I also learned how to be more patient, both with others and myself.”The annual 21-day Southern Cross course is hosted in conjunction with the Human Rights Commission to connect students and to build a network of emerging young leaders from diverse backgrounds. The students take on a range of activities, both as teams and individuals, to push their boundaries and discover who they are and what they stand for. The students represented different ethnicities, genders, ideologies, sexual orientation and socio-economic status. Dima was put forward for the course by Refugees As Survivors, who also sponsored her travel to Anakiwa.

Dima says while all of her watch members were from different religious backgrounds and cultures, there were many similarities between them.“My Outward Bound journey taught me that there will always be people who will accept you as you are. All my watch members were from different religious backgrounds and cultures, and held different beliefs, but we still cooked together, slept in the same room and laughed together. We chose to focus on the similarities between us, not our differences. Through them, I learned many things about New Zealand culture and also learned how to count from one to ten in other languages. Each person taught me something special about their culture.”

The Southern Cross watchmates all still keep in touch through a Facebook group and recently Dima went to Auckland for a cath-up dinner in the city. "It was very uplifting to talk to them and remember the crazy days we lived through!"

In the month following Dima’s return from Outward Bound the devastating terrorist event occurred in Christchurch, the effects of which are still being felt by her and her family.

“My mother still feels scared walking down the street with her headscarf on, which makes me so sad. As a family, we felt scared, shocked and unsafe. My parents know some of the families who lost loved ones. However, I know that the majority of New Zealanders are not racist nor Islam-phobic and we have received lots of support and love from our friends, neighbours and people in the community.

Dima also says that her time at Outward Bound has definitely made her more resilient. “Every time something bad happens at university or in my new life in Otago, I remember how resilient I was in Anakiwa. I keep reminding myself that I can do it!”

At Outward Bound, Dima says she also learned some valuable life lessons about cultural differences.

We are all humans and are essentially all the same. We helped each other without thinking about any differences in our backgrounds. I remember those moments and they gave me hope after the terrorist attack.

”Dima wants to pass on the positive influence and learnings from her time at Outward Bound to her younger brothers and is helping them to fundraise. “I really want them to learn what I learned and the importance and value of many things in life that we barely appreciate.”

Dima’s hope for the future is simple; “That New Zealand will continue to combine all cultures and religions and make a beautiful place to live together with supportive people, just as my group did at Outward Bound". 


Dima (right) preparing food for the Southern Cross cultural dinner in Anakiwa









 Southern Cross 2019 students in Anakiwa