by Daniel G. Khalil, Jr.
From mid-July through mid-August 2009, I was a resident at St. Elias Monastery in the Dweila neighborhood of Damascus, Syria. I was accompanied by a group of nearly twenty young adults from the United States, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, and Australia, participating in a program called Damascus Summer Encounter (www.syriasummer.org) – a one-month or two-month program designed to foster friendship and understanding between young people from western nations and the people of Syria. About half of the group had signed up for the two-month session and had joined the Damascus Summer Encounter in mid-June; the other half had opted to participate only in the one-month program and arrived in Damascus in mid-July. In short, the Damascus Summer Encounter is a comprehensive program offering participants an intense yet personal inter-cultural experience combining cultural seminars, language training, visits to historic sites, and, most importantly, community service.