My next-door neighbor sleeps five feet away from me. We both live on the second floor of adjacent duplexes. Our windows face each other.

I finally met the guy behind the curtain last week during a grill-out party. His name is Ahmed Omar, and he goes by Mido.

He’s a 26-year old veterinarian studying animal viruses at the University of Minnesota; here for the research portion of a Masters project he started in Egypt, his homeland.

Interviewing him was easy. We just opened our windows and started talking.

I asked Mido to describe some general differences between Minneapolis and his home in Cairo. He first cleared up two common American misconceptions: Egypt is not one big desert and the main mode of transportation is not camel.

“Cairo is similar to Minneapolis,” he said, “We have twin cities, Cairo and Giza, and we have the Nile river that runs between them.”

Although Cairo crushes Minneapolis on the population scale—13,300,00 to 382,618—Mido said Minneapolis is more culturally diverse. In Cairo, Arabic is the dominant language and Islam the principal faith. The  houses are larger, too, yet due to crowding, most have been carved into numerous apartments.

Egypt and the U.S. do share one aspect: an obsession with sports. “We have the same things for fun,” Mido said. Though the other type football, soccer, is more popular. Egypt has won a record seven championships in the Africa Cup of Nations.

Moving to the other side of the Earth was a challenge for Mido, to say the least. This was his first time outside Egypt, so Minnesota might as well be another planet.

The cold was a shocker he said. Egypt is one of the hottest countries in the world, and he came here this past January.

But adjusting to this place meant more than buying a winter coat. “Another challenge I have faced here is being a Muslim,” he said. “I didn’t find many mosques to go to and pray.” He’s right. According to Google maps, there are only four Mosques within a five-mile radius of the campus.

Then there’s the language barrier:

“The first month [here] was really hard, because I had no friends,” he said. “How do you ask someone to be your friend? In Egypt, it’s easier. Same culture. Same language.” Having only studied British English, the Midwestern accent probably doesn’t help. Nevertheless, Mido remains positive. “The people are so nice here,” he said, and “the language problem will be solved over time.”

While Minnesota doesn’t have the Great Pyramids or year-round warm weather, Mido has been struck by one Midwest wonder: The Mall of America. “It’s very huge and very great,” he said. “It’s the best thing I have seen until now.”

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