A Recipe for Cultural Exchange

In addition to teaching, one of the most important parts of any intern’s work at TYO is in the field of cultural diplomacy. The US State Department, which partially funds TYO international internships, calls cultural diplomacy “the linchpin of public diplomacy” and argues that it “can enhance our national security in subtle, wide-ranging, and sustainable ways.” Sometimes, cultural exchange is part of our formal work. During our classes at An-Najah University, we spend plenty of time talking about our country and our culture in the context of teaching students how to apply to jobs and schools in the U.S. Similarly, we taught lessons about Independence Day on July 4th in our Art, Drama and Music summer camp classes. Other times, the exchange happens in an informal context. For example, the other night several interns went to our Arabic teacher Hanin’s house for a quick lesson on making Maqlouba, a famous and delicious Palestinian dish.

Maqlouba literally means upside down and that is exactly what cultural diplomacy is all about. In a world plagued by stereotypes and misunderstandings, there is nothing more needed than to invert ignorance by people of different cultures engaging with one another.  Hanin not only taught us how to make our favorite Palestinian dish, but also graciously welcomed us into her home to meet her family. ”El beit beitak” (البيت ييتك) she greeted us, “This house is yours!”

We began with a cooking lesson and then all sat down to dinner. After being away from our own families for a few months, we found ourselves welcomed into Hanin’s. We joked together, ate together, drank coffee together, and then sat around after dinner just chatting. It is in these moments, stumbling over Arabic and English words, explaining how we do something in America, and asking questions about how things are done here, that we really create bridges and understanding. However, the cultural exchange does not stop here in Nablus with just these interns and this family. Eventually, we will all return home and begin speaking about our experience, the family we met, the food we ate, and the conversations we had. Likewise, Hanin’s family will go out and talk about the Americans they met and who they were. Information will spread, and as we like to say in Arabic, shway shway (slowly, slowly), stereotypes and misunderstandings will be turned upside down and change.

Hanin’s Famous Maqlouba


  • Rice
  • Chicken (or ground meat)
  • Chickpeas
  • Eggplant
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Saffron
  • Cardamom
  • Olive Oil
  • Raisins and Almonds (if desired)

*Note: Like many gifted chefs, Hanin does not measure anything.  Do not be scared, nothing needs to be too precise.  Over time you will learn how much of what makes your favorite Maqlouba.

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil (enough to later cover the rice).  Boil chicken (or ground meat) until cooked through.
  2. Soak the rice for thirty minutes.
  3. Slice eggplant and fry in olive oil.
  4. Remove chicken from pot after about two hours and stock is created (if using ground meat leave in the pot).  Place chicken in oven with salt, pepper, and olive oil until browned.
  5. Add fried eggplant to pot.
  6. Add salt, pepper, cardamon, and saffron to taste.
  7. Use oven mitts, count to three, and flip!
  8. Place browned chicken and fried raisins and almonds on top.
  9. Serve up and enjoy a beautiful taste from Palestine.

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