With 2019 being declared the Year of Tolerance, what better example of multiple cultures living in harmony is there than the meet-up group Abu Dhabi Speaks?
We sit down with one of the organisers, Juma Mahmoud, to talk about how cultural exchange, learning languages and even a marriage has blossomed from the community collaboration.
Tell us about the concept of Abu Dhabi Speaks…
AD Speaks is a free, weekly language and cultural exchange event that’s open to people from all backgrounds and cultures. It brings people of various nationalities, professions and ages together, to learn about each other’s languages and cultures in a casual, friendly environment.
What happens at a typical meet-up?
For the first 30 minutes we’re all seated at one table where a cultural topic is discussed, which is different every week; a couple of weeks ago, for example, we discussed wedding traditions in different countries.
Every participant told us about how they do weddings in their culture. Then we split into tables based on the languages people want to learn and we have a native speaker seated on that table to help teach them.
Also, there’s always one table for people who came to socialise rather than learn a language.
What have been some of your favourite meet-up moments over the years?
I have a lot of great memories from AD Speaks, but the most recent one was when a group of us volunteered for the Special Olympics World Games. It was like we had a little AD Speaks community in the Olympics.
But my favourite moments are when I see beautiful friendships – and even marriages – form between people who have met for the first time at AD Speaks.
Speaking in another language for the first time requires confidence. How does the group deal with this?
That’s true, it does require confidence, a lot of people are nervous when they first come, but five minutes in they see how friendly everyone is and how relaxed the atmosphere is and they all loosen up.
Aside from learning and improving languages, what else does the group offer?
AD Speaks is much more than an event to learn a language. In fact, most of our new joiners are new to the city and they come to make friends and learn about the different cultures.
A lot of small groups of friends started because of AD Speaks, and a lot of hangouts other than the weekly language exchange started happening.
For example, we recently went for a barbecue in the desert, while earlier this month we went for a game of paintball and go-karting. And my favourite event happens every Ramadan, where we do a multi-cultural iftar where everyone has to cook a dish from their country and we all share the different dishes in a park.
With 2019 being the Year of Tolerance, how do you think the group embodies this theme?
AD Speaks is the perfect example of tolerance in the UAE, as it gathers people coming from all around the world, from different religions, backgrounds, ethnicities and professions, and they all sit together in harmony, talking and laughing together.
In the Year of Tolerance, I’d like to say, never hesitate to open up to people from different cultures.
Living in the UAE is a blessing that gives you this amazing chance to be part of a diverse community, so make full use of it!
Abu Dhabi Speaks meets every Tuesday at 7.30pm. To find out more, visit: facebook.com/adspeaks