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Telling their stories

International students share cultures, experiences during Middle East Month

“I think my favorite part is seeing American people getting to know the culture of the Middle East and how people interact with each other there,” said the University of Delaware’s Ahmed Joban, a freshman math and economics major from Yemen.

Throughout April, the University community explored the culture and contributions of the Middle East and North Africa during Middle East Month.

Coordinated by the Institute for Global Studies, the month-long celebration featured nearly 20 events sponsored by University departments and organizations. Some of the most popular were those led by the experts themselves, international students from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Afghan Kite Festival

On April 14, international and domestic students and scholars gathered on Fraser Field for a special Afghan Kite Festival, inspired by two of UD’s Fulbright Foreign Students, Emal Masoud and Jubair Musazay, both master’s degree students in civil and structural engineering from Afghanistan.

Musazay, who grew up flying kites “in the streets and hillsides of Kabul,” contacted his brothers to collect key information from shops throughout the city to share in print during the event.

“Kite flying is intertwined with the Afghan society and culture,” he said. “Through the thick and thin of our country’s problems, it has been there… While the game sure has critics, those who love it, love it endlessly and there are many.”

Throughout the day, guests decorated their own kites while they enjoyed snacks and met others from around the world. Both Musazay and Masoud were on hand to help attendees successfully assemble and fly their kites high in the sky.

Voices of Middle Eastern women

Open to women of all cultural backgrounds, an April 24 panel invited women from the Middle East to share their experiences.

“As we progressed with the event planning, I realized the importance of letting people know how we Middle Eastern women live our lives, because media doesn't give our culture justice,” said Nouf Alqahtani, a recent graduate of the English Language Institute (ELI). “I wanted to convey my voice as well as the voice of my other friends who are from different parts of the Middle East...We wanted to teach Americans outside of the ELI about our lives so they could see the similarities we have with them and be able to relate to us in hopes of creating harmony.”


Later, on April 26, some 25 students from 10 countries served their favorite teas and traditional snacks at “Hospitali-Tea,” an afternoon event in Harrington Community Center where guests learned about the role of hospitality in Middle Eastern culture.

“Tea plays a huge role, actually,” said Ahmed Mohsen, UD’s only international student from Bahrain. “It is our social drink. It brings people together around a table in happy times, in sad times, and just normal times.”

Mohsen continued, “It means a lot to me to be able to showcase my country because not a lot of people know where Bahrain is. It was a wonderful opportunity… to show what my country is, where it is on the map and what values we have.”

MariaJosé Riera, UD’s SABIC coordinator, saw the event as an opportunity to build mutual understanding between Americans and those from the Middle East.

“Each of our departments, the English language Institute, the Office for International Students and Scholars, and Residence Life and Housing, engages with many students from countries in this region,” she said. “We recognize them as ambassadors of their cultures and see the need and the gift of giving them a platform for them to learn from the rest of the UD community, but also for them to teach us.”

Sponsored student research

The month wound down with research presentations by two of UD’s sponsored students, Afraa Al Hchaimi and Mahmoud Sherif.

Hchaimi, a Fulbright Foreign Student from Iraq, is currently pursuing a master’s degree in entomology and wildlife ecology, where her research focuses on innovative methods to control varroa mites in honeybee colonies.

“People use a lot of methods to control varroa mites but not a lot of them are working,” she noted during her talk.

According to Hchaimi, the pest could have a devastating impact on agricultural industries around the world with the potential to wipe out entire colonies. “Most of the food that we eat is pollinated by honeybees,” she said, citing U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics that estimate $15 billion worth of crops were pollinated by the insects in 2016.

Mahmoud Sherif, a doctoral student in UD’s Department of Geological Sciences, presented research on an issue that, for him, hits close to home. Alongside department chair Neil Sturchio, Sherif is taking a close look at the origin and distribution of natural radioactivity in Egypt’s Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System.

Sherif said, “I think this research is very important because the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer is the largest groundwater body in the world and it spans the political boundaries of four countries in northeast Africa -– Egypt, Libya, Chad and Sudan.”

According to Amy Greenwald Foley, associate director for global outreach at the Institute for Global Studies, a priority of the month-long celebrations is to educate and engage members of University community in the many cultures and contributions of the world. “Providing members of our 5,000-plus international student and scholar community with a platform to share their scholarly research and their unique stories is an added benefit that enriches us all,” she said.

Middle East Month was a successful collaboration with numerous campus sponsors, including Campus Recreation, the Center for Global and Area Studies, Development and Alumni Relations, the English Language Institute, Hillel, International Caucus, Islamic Studies, Morris Library, Office for International Students and Scholars, Residence Life and Housing, UD Sustainability Taskforce, and the departments of Art Conservation, History, Languages, Literatures and Cultures, and Political Science and International Relations.

About the Institute for Global Studies

The Institute for Global Studies was created in 2009 to enhance the international dimensions of teaching, research and outreach at the University of Delaware. IGS provides leadership and support for programs and experiences that contribute to the education of informed, skilled, open-minded citizens of the world.

Best known for coordinating the University’s study abroad program, IGS also awards scholarships and grants to faculty and students for a number of global opportunities, and administers internationally-recognized State Department-sponsored programs such as the UD Fulbright Initiative, Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Student Leaders Institute, Mandela Washington Fellowship Program for Young African Leaders, and the Study of the U.S. Institutes for Student Leaders on Women’s Leadership (SUSI-WL) program.

IGS sponsors such signature events as Global Month each fall and country-specific celebrations each spring.

IGS collaborates with other global partners on campus, including the Office for International Students and Scholars, the Confucius Institute and the Center for Global and Area Studies. In addition, IGS partners with Enrollment Management to coordinate the UD World Scholars Program.

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