It “may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like something which is bad for you. This is a verse from the Qura’an that aims to say that you have to be optimistic, and believe that what may come after is good because whatever comes from God is for your own good, even if you don’t realize it at that time.”
This is only a snapshot of Fulbright fellow Nadia Gamal Ebrahim’s life philosophy. Originally from the city of Aden (the old capital of South Yemen before unification with North Yemen in 1990), Ebrahim is the teaching assistant of Arabic in the Modern Languages Department. She will be presenting about her culture and country at the CultureLink Tea from 3 to 4 p.m. today, Wednesday, April 18, in Room 202, Anderson Student Center.
After arriving in the United States on August 31 she attended a mandatory Fulbright orientation in Arizona. There she had the opportunity to meet Fulbright teaching assistants from around the world – only one other assistant was from Yemen.
Considering herself to be a cultural ambassador, Ebrahim says: “We reflect the language and culture, and also learn about American culture and lifestyle.” Her strong convictions of representing her own culture prevented her from having the culture shock that most Americans experience when traveling abroad. She added: “We, as non Americans, know more about America than Americans know about other countries.”
As a teaching assistant Ebrahim is responsible for helping students with their assignments and grading their exams in written and oral form. She has immersed herself into the Twin Cities community by volunteering as a tutor and mentor at the Fred Wells Educational Center; in addition, she also is auditing two classes this semester.
The oldest of five children, it was difficult for Ebrahim to be away from home. In Yemeni culture, children traditionally wait until marriage before they leave the home. It was more difficult for her because she helped raise her siblings while her mother worked. Also a founder of the Roa’a Shababya Initiative in Aden (an initiative that focuses on volunteering and social work), Ebrahim has been able to continue to work by means of administrative tasks and editing information.
Communication has been difficult between Ebrahim and her loved ones due to the current revolution that was sparked by the Arab Spring of last year. “I had difficult times thinking about my family and the situation back there. Telling myself what is going to happened next. Every day you hear in the news and know that someone you know or your family knows had died. I can’t find out any information some times. Companies are leaving the country because it’s unsafe; that’s why the financial situation is getting worse for a lot of families. People are dying,” Ebrahim laments.
Ebrahim’s plans include returning home next month and pursuing a master’s in Middle Eastern studies, women’s studies, or international relations. She aspires to become the minister of education or of human rights for her country. A dream of hers is to open a retirement home to aid the older generations that no longer have family to take care of them. She hopes to provide them a safe place and the resources they need.
Her advice to international students is to be goal focused and to remain true to yourself. “Never ever try to be American. You never will be. Be proud of who you are,” she stated.
Ebrahim believes that there is a tendency for international students to lose their identity because it is difficult to always “be someone from somewhere.” She wishes to remind students to stay optimistic even in difficult times. “The right way is the hardest way,” she added.
For her presentation, Ebrahim will discuss Yemen’s geography, customs and culture, including the role of women. She is eager to present the “correct” situation of Yemeni women. When asked if it upsets her that so many judgments are quickly passed about her culture, she affirms: “I’m not here to judge anyone … . I can’t criticize them, because there’s something they don’t know. I’m not God. I can’t judge them.”
Ebrahim invites the St. Thomas community to attend and openly participate at her CultureLink Tea presentation today. Tea and snacks will be provided.