Farah Sedky moved her hands expressively, beaming as she described her first trip to the United States this week for Sunday’s Miss Universe pageant at Planet Hollywood.
Miss Egypt, 23, a native of Cairo, said she wasn’t just a beauty queen as she ran one hand through her long dark hair, but a citizen using a platform to better her country’s image. Despite never touching foot on U.S. soil until last week, Sedky spoke clear English with an American accent she learned as a teenager watching “Friends.”
“This is about positive body image, but also to have causes in which you have to fight,” Sedky said. “In Egypt we need more formal education and less childhood marriages.”
She then switched to Spanish, then French, speaking in native European accents she learned from her Moroccan mother and most recently, studying in Spain. Sedky speaks six languages and works as an interpreter for international language institutes across Europe and Africa.
Sedky is one of 92 representatives from across the world aiming to become the next winner of the annual pageant, which returns to Las Vegas on Sunday for the first time since 2015. Steve Harvey will again return as the host this year.
While a small number of contestants have established residency in the United States across popular modeling cities like Los Angeles and New York, many are here for the first time.
Besides Sedky, other first-time valley visitors included Keysi Sayago of Venezuela, who called her first U.S. experience “unique and beautiful.” Despite her nation recently being placed on President Donald Trump’s list of eight countries with restricted or prohibited travel to the U.S., Sayago, 24, said her visa was processed with no problem.
She lamented the current political struggle between the two nations, and described Venezuela as being in “a bad situation.” She hopes to use her platform on Sunday to educate international viewers of both the “warmth and the grit” of the friendly, but hard-working Venezuelan mindset.
“Venezuelans characterize themselves by being strong and patriotic,” Sayago said in Spanish. “We always work collectively for something bigger and better, and that’s my idea of what it means to be Miss Universe.”
Fellow pageant contestant Stephanie Agbasi of Nigeria echoed that sentiment. Agbasi, 20, aims to bring attention the evils of terrorist group Boko Haram as well as the rampant sexual abuse of women and children in her home country. But the Miss Nigeria winner emphasized that most people from her home country are hardworking, religious and deeply cultured people of strong morale.
“Nigerians are welcoming, and above all, very friendly,” Agbasi said. “Apart from Boko Haram, we are a peaceful and humanitarian population.”
Beyond the flare and excitement of the Las Vegas lights, the international pageant contestants were complimentary of what they believed the United States stood for. Among compliments Miss Egypt, Miss Venezuela and Miss Nigeria had for the host country included praise for the United States’ organization, security and goal to promote world peace.
“This one of the greatest nations in the world,” Agbasi said. “The U.S. is always willing to help other nations, and I admire that. Not just for their own interests, but for other people across the world.”