I’ve noticed that the sense of independence and even maturity is very different among people my age here in Tunisia. For a number of reasons, people usually live at home until they get married, or perhaps move to a different country if they so choose. Even if someone wanted to move out, it would be seen as odd, “What’s wrong with your family that you don’t want to live with them?” Naturally, this impairs young people from learning how to take care of themselves: they don’t know how to pay rent, manage money, cook for themselves, and even little things like how to do laundry, or how to take care of themselves when they’re sick and mommy isn’t around to make soup.

I’ve met a wide range of families from both of my visits here. I’ve met helicopter parents who do absolutely everything for their children, give them whatever money they need, think their kids are the most brilliant children on the face of the earth, and if something ever goes wrong, they push the blame onto someone else because their child is perfect and couldn’t possibly be at fault. This is the worst way to raise a child, because not only do they not learn how to take care of themselves, but they never learn a sense of responsibility. They learn that if they screw up, it’s not their fault and mommy will take care of it.

I’ve also met parents who push their kids to be more responsible, by making them get jobs over the summer even though they’re still in school and the family’s financially well off, by making them help out with chores around the house even if they have a maid, and by allowing them to do more things on their own, such as go out with friends without having to know every minute detail of their whereabouts. However, even these more open and liberal families view these young adults as children… especially the women.

Perhaps it’s more of a common courtesy thing, but my friends here treat women much better than at home. (I am not of course talking about the men on the street who feel they have a right to comment on my appearance in a derogatory fashion, but the people in my peer group who I’ve become close with.) Both men and women always drive me to my doorstep at night, or even offer to walk me back. They always offer seats to me if we’re at a bar or cafe, and they generally just look after women better. Perhaps it’s because they realize their world is still a bit more dangerous for women than it is for men, or maybe they still believe women need more looking after than men. Maybe a little bit of both.

Even adults, though, view my peer group as needing more looking after. For example, a friend of mine went on vacation with her family for a long weekend. Her younger sister stayed at home, but her parents won’t let her stay in the house by herself. Thankfully, she has plenty of family and friends close by who are willing to take her in. However, she’s 19 years old, and as someone who left home at 18 and has hardly been back since, I find this very shocking. But it’s not just that her parents are overprotective of her or don’t trust her. She also feels that she’s not capable of being on her own even for a few days.

When I talk to parents here about my experience with being idependent versus what I’ve observed here, they all tell me that they think 18 is too young. Sure I know some 25 year olds who partied their way through college and are barely capable of taking care of themselves now in the real world. They drank away their college years and went to mommy and dadddy when they failed a class and had them call the professor to change the grade. I also know some students who tried to drink away their college years but had a brutal wake up call when mommy and daddy wouldn’t bail them out. I know some people who hit the ground running and came to college already extremely independent. However, I would say that the majority of people I knew in college graduated with a sense of independence, even if they didn’t start with it. Sure, some of them may have had a year or two of wild college life to let loose and get used to being away from home, but those 4 years forced them to become independent, forced them to learn how to think for themselves and how to take care of themselves. (Granted, some still don’t know how to cook due to the unlimited meal plan at Wheaton, but they’ll be forced to once they’re in the “real world.”)

I have noticed a difference in maturity levels from my peers at home versus some of my peers in Tunisia. For example, since this is a Muslim country, alcohol is rather taboo, even for those of age. Granted, in certain social circles it’s just as prevalent as at home, but it’s treated a lot differently. Often times, people in their mid-20’s will treat going out to a club and drinking as if they’re breaking some law and being super cool rebels, get trashed and then drive home. Whereas I’ll have a glass of wine with dinner and think nothing of it, and will also take the keys of anyone who even thinks of drinking and driving.

Perhaps many of my peers here in Tunisia aren’t ready to be on their own, aren’t mature enough to handle much of what life has to bring. But how will they learn if they remain sheltered? You can’t learn to swim without going in the water.