Voices of DiversityPage address: https://www.mnsu.edu/diversity/commission/almabdelhamid.html
International student explores new perspectives on cultural diversity
by James Figy | December 10, 2015
From the roof of her grandmother’s house, Salma Abdelhamid can see the great pyramids at Giza. These world wonders actually abut her hometown—Cairo, Egypt. Many people, however, think the Egyptian pyramids are far away in the desert, Abdelhamid said.
It’s all a matter of perspective, which Abdelhamid, a sophomore finance major and Honors Program student at Minnesota State University, Mankato, finds fascinating.
People’s perspectives depend on where they come from and what they were taught growing up, she said. For instance, in her senior year of high school when she started looking at colleges in the United States, particularly in Minnesota, she had a limited perspective of winter.
“Everyone, when I was back home, even when I did my interview—they were like, ‘It’s so cold. It’s so cold.’ And I thought, ‘OK,’” she said. “I never knew it would be this cold, because it never gets this cold back home. … Then I come here, and I’m like, ‘Uh oh.’”
Gaining a broader perspective of the world played a large role in why Abdelhamid decided to study abroad near the end of high school.
“I had a few friends who graduated the year before me who went to Canada and the UK, different places around the world, to study, and I thought, ‘Why not me too? It’d be a cool experience,’” she said. “I started looking at videos of people’s study abroad, hearing people’s experiences, and I thought why not? It’d be cool to go to another country, explore how different people live, and get to live that.”
She eventually discovered MSU. The tuition seemed reasonable and Mankato being a college town, rather than a major city, appealed to Abdelhamid.
The UNESCO Institute for Statistics shows that about 2,500 Egyptian students studied in the U.S. in 2013, the most recent year for which it had data. However, of MSU’s 1,129 international students from 89 countries, only seven Egyptian students registered to study at the University for the 2015-2016 academic year, according to the Elizabeth & Wynn Kearney International Center.
New members of the MSU community might’ve met Abdelhamid without knowing—when she took their campus ID pictures. She works in the MavCARD office, a job that her environmental science professor, Dr. Beth Proctor, helped her get. Proctor not only taught an interesting class, she also served as a reference on Abdelhamid’s application.
“She helped me a lot when I came here,” she said. “I liked the class just because of her.”
She also enjoyed Accounting 200 with Dr. Byron Pike. “I enjoy a class if the professor is really good,” she said. “And Byron was a really, really good professor.”
When Abdelhamid graduates with her degree in finance, she hopes to start a business in Egypt that creates a change in the world. It could be a school, but she’s not entirely sure yet. She simply knows it should help people look at the world through different, culturally diverse perspectives.
“Hopefully, I’ll learn more about how the world works, how can I leave an impact on people, how can I cause people to think for themselves, how can I get people not to be brainwashed by whatever it is—the media or other people or political sectors—and just get people to think from very different angles,” she said. “When I came here, throughout my entire life, I saw the world from my point of view, from the Egyptian’s point of view. When I came here, I wanted to see the world from America’s point of view.”
While people in the U.S. do many things Abdelhamid does back home—watch TV, spend time with family, go on picnics—there are many cultural differences. The typical Minnesotan does not eat koshari, an Egyptian staple including onions, pasta, tomato sauce, chickpeas, and lentils. Also, many people are curious about her faith.
“Because I wear the hijab [headscarf], it’s pretty obvious that I’m Muslim, and I get a lot of questions about my faith,” she said. “Some of them are pretty good questions. Some of them are stupid questions. Good questions would be: How could a muslim girl or guy know that they want to marry that person if they can’t have an intimate relationship before marriage? … Stupid questions would be, like: Do you go to school on a camel?”
The good questions challenge her to think and learn more about Islam as well as other people's religions, Abdelhamid said. Respecting cultural diversity, MSU provides a place for Muslim students, faculty, and staff to wash and pray, as they’re required to do five times each day. A traditional Friday prayer service takes place on campus, and the Carkoski Dining Hall now serves halal meat. There also is a mosque in downtown Mankato, which Abdelhamid visits during Ramadan.
“We all face challenges with our faiths,” she said, adding it is fine, “as long as we try to learn more and try to get closer to God.”
Despite differences in food and faith, Minnesotans always have one thing in common—the long, cold winter. During Abdelhamid’s freshman year at MSU, she saw snow for the first time.
“I was like, ‘Snow!’ I went outside, touched it with no gloves on, played with it, looked at it, checked it out. For five minutes, it was in my hands. When I go back inside, I cannot feel my hands,” she said. “I really like the snow, but sometimes it gets too cold.”
Top photo by James Figy. Other photos courtesy of Salma Abdelhamid.