Learning Beyond the Classroom: AUC International Students Study Abroad in Washington
“The highlight of my time in Washington would be the Women's March,” said Zainab Al Haddad, integrated marketing communication major who spend a semester abroad in the United States as part of the Tomorrow’s Leaders Scholarship Program. “As a Muslim Arab, I went there with a cause: to use my voice for Arab women and stand for women's rights and equality. In the march, we were welcomed warmly by the people there; the support for Arabs and Muslims was overwhelming. All the fears I held as a Muslim coming to the United States in this time were put to an end because I saw the beauty in the people there. The march was truly an astonishing moment that portrayed democracy in its finest.”
Echoing these sentiments, political science student Fatema Nooruddin said, “Our goal at the Women's March was to show the world who we are. We are diverse. We are strong. We are determined.”
For many AUC students like Al Haddad and Nooruddin, studying abroad is a transformative component of their University experience, gaining knowledge both in the classroom and by living in a foreign country. Al Haddad and Nooruddin, along with political science student Abrar Abdulla, have been given the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. to study at the American University (AU).
“Being abroad has broadened my horizons,” said Abdulla. “It allowed me to have a new outlook on the political systems beyond the Middle East. Being abroad also expanded my networks, which will help me academically and professionally after graduation. We can also transfer our personal experiences and the knowledge we gained back to AUC and in our home country.”
Originally from Bahrain, Al Haddad, Nooruddin and Abdulla are all juniors in the Tomorrow's Leaders Scholarship Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. One requirement of this leadership program is studying abroad in the United States. After being selected in a competitive application process, all three decided to enroll at the American University in Washington, where they have been taking classes in its political science program, one of the strongest in the United States.
As Nooruddin explained, the educational opportunities have been a highlight of their time at AU. “Getting to take courses like Modern Jewish Civilization, for example, which is taught by a passionate Jewish professor who is specialized in this study is amazing,” she said.
Echoing these sentiments, Abdulla noted that they have been able to attend important events, such as the Presidential Inauguration as well as high-level educational seminars with U.S. ambassadors, navy generals and other top government officials. “We also got to attend an AU Interfaith Chapel Service in the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., which built bridges and fostered peace among various religious communities,” she added.
In addition to the tremendous education they’ve gained at AU, all three students emphasized the formative experience of being in Washington during such a significant time in U.S. history. “Washington D.C is the heart of politics, and being here during this critical time in United States gives us a chance that does not come by every day,” said Al Haddad. “We made it a goal to experience as much as we can from this democratic change and to be a part of it by using our voices for Arabs and women. It is important to engage and integrate ourselves into this community to meet people. We are seen as advocates for Arabs, and it is essential to present Bahrain, Egypt and AUC in a positive and powerful image.”
While they have faced many challenges during their time in Washington, such as misconceptions and stereotypes, Nooruddin also emphasized that “we have mostly received love from people, and I think that we are so lucky because of how diverse and accepting people are in D.C.”
Echoing this sentiment, Al Haddad added that “one of the biggest challenges I've faced is in dealing with the misconceptions and fears that surround Arabs. I would be questioned by my American peers about tradition, faith and political issues. I spoke and debated with them, answering their questions in order for them to have a better understanding of Arabs and realize just how diverse we are.”
Reflecting on her experience in Washington, Abdulla said that “through my discussion with people from different cultures, religious and political affiliations, I became more aware of many issues, such as gender and interfaith issues, refugees and immigrants, and more. The semester abroad broadens one’s knowledge and develops one’s personality. I would encourage those who are capable of going abroad to give it a shot; it is really worth it."