Cheyenne Penny: Traveling Towards Self-Discovery

Cheyenne Penny grew up in the United Arab Emirates. She shares how global connectivity has expanded her perspectives through traveling, as she pursues her career and educational ambitions in civil rights and social justice. She is an intern for MALA for Spring 2017.


In a nutshell, traveling around the world has been the instigator of my journey to self-discovery. While I’m essentially South African, I grew up in Dubai, United Arab Emirates – the city of dreams. One could describe Dubai as the embodiment of ambition, while others may claim that Dubai fosters lavish lifestyles that only reinforces materialistic and image driven communities. I see it as neither. For me, Dubai is my home and I will forever hold it close to my heart. While Dubai is certainly a melting pot of people from all walks of life, I was able to witness Dubai transform from a humble desert into the bustling city it is today. Dubai’s objective to nurse tolerance between nationalities and sustain peace in amongst different religions has shaped and inspired me into the woman I am today. However, it wasn’t until I reached the United States did my life encounter an unexpected transformation.

Deciding to study in the States was a challenge in itself. I never visited the country nor did I have the American dream instilled in me since birth. However, observing the current political state of affairs and the post-apartheid aftereffects in South Africa coerced me to find an alternative for my educational pursuit. Furthermore, attending an international high school greatly influenced my decision to travel overseas and pursue an education in the States. While I was undoubtedly riddled with anxiety, I found comfort in knowing that I was moving closer to the person I want to become. Essentially, I wanted to discover my personal definition under the American dream, wherein I learn about America’s culture through my education.

Initially, I was taken aback by the misconceptions held about the Middle East, but more importantly, about Muslims. While I knew mainstream media played a major role in cultivating certain ideologies, never did I think I would experience an intense urge to correct these widely believed stereotypes. While I, myself, am not Muslim, my upbringing was influenced by Muslims, and I consider Middle Eastern culture, particularly defined by its nature of inclusivity, as my own. During my educational journey, I have learnt how to empathize with American citizens and understand why some may grip onto their beliefs, and also, discover how to stand my ground when advocating the truth. Thereafter, I soon recognized how not only traveling around the world contributes to a global perspective, but it essentially forces one to engage in cultural exchange, in hopes of becoming a global citizen.

This entire experience has sparked within me a desire to continually seek for meaning in suffering, be it personal, religious, or political circumstances. Despite the notion that success revolves around fame and fortune, which is especially cultivated in Dubai, I aim to build bridges between cultures and nations through a means of raising awareness. I seek to become the medium through which relationships can be reconciled, which would otherwise be impossible. I want to assist in civil rights movements that promote awareness and advocate for equal opportunity and justice.

Hence, traveling around the world has proven to me that while we may differ in our individual characteristics which make us unique, we are ultimately one people. While there may be clashes of interests and cultural backlash, we are united by the sole fact that we are human and together, we can achieve the unthinkable and extraordinary idea of abolishing societal labels and segregation. While Dubai is an international hub, I remain confident that the most effective way to embrace a culture is by submerging myself into it. Personally, I advocate for diversity of thought, cultures, and persons, so the opportunity to venture into the world is far too precious to not pursue, which I hope to prove in my lifetime.

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