Umwaka Mushya Muhire w’amata n’ubuki
(Happy New Year wishes in kinyaRwanda)
I hope this year 2021 will be positive a reflection of all the lessons learned in 2020!
It is said to feel smart or to expand your world views it is vital to surround yourself with smarter people, this is why when I was thinking of who to connect with for this month: it became evident that Lady Zeina Abouelazm was the ideal person to kick us off for 2021.
It is my distinct pleasure and honor to introduce Lady Zeina Abouelazm, an Egyptian national gracing us with her presence and shaping the Red River Valley with her many talents. She spent her life moving between countries until she settled in Fargo in 2017 to attend NDSU. Zeina is a senior with a dual degree in emergency management and management communication, Zeina enjoys volunteering, jogging, traveling and staying active in the community and is currently a Red Cross Disaster Caseworker.
Her time in Saudi Arabia and her early exposure to traveling grew her interest in different cultures. Her love for journeying and curiosity about the international system drives her desire to earn a master’s degree in international development and pursue a career in humanitarian affairs.
The Valley is fortunate to have her call here home away from her beautiful ancestral home on the shores of the legendary Nile River.
I wish you a great start for 2021!
Keep smiling at life!
Where do you call home? What is your journey of growth and lessons learned in the F-M area?
Growing up, I experienced living in UAE (1 year), Egypt (9 years), Saudi Arabia (8 years), and America (4 years) in the listed order. ‘Home’ has always been an ever-changing concept for me but Cairo, Egypt, is where my family is and therefore where my heart will always be. When people ask me why I chose NDSU for university, I truly have no answer besides ‘it chose me, and I am thankful for that.’ I am known for getting in trouble because of impulsive decisions and accepting my admission to NDSU is by far the most impulsive, yet best decision, I ever made.
Adapting to a new world region, culture and weather was not an easy journey; however, it has been a character-changing and confidence-boosting one and continues to be every day. Through living in the F-M area, I made friends that became a second family, experiences that will forever make me grateful, learned how to function in a kitchen alone without burning the place down and started a professional path in the humanitarian affairs field which I absolutely love and hope to help people all around the world with.
The story of your passion for traveling
People often remember their ‘first flight,’ but that is not the case for me. My mom sat me on her lap two months after I was born as we headed toward Dubai, and it never stopped ever since. I was raised in a family that had an outstanding passion for
travel and made sure that my brother and I got to experience the world with them.
Over time, I started setting my own destinations, planning trips and saving money to make them happen. I have traveled to 13 countries and no matter where I go, I leave the place with lessons learned, appreciation for god’s creation, friendships and excitement for my next journey. So far, Jinja, Uganda, is my favorite destination, with its incomparably kind people, rich nature, history and culture. My trip to Uganda made it clear that Africa has the most to offer; the world just needs to look there. Once COVID’s days are in history, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Tanzania are my top three destinations.
Why should people care about things outside the Midwest world? What is the importance of interconnectedness between worlds?
Living in the F-M area meant that I was often the only person of color, international student, Muslim and bilingual person in the room. This lack of representation drew
my attention to what the typical Midwest community is missing out on: knowledge about the outside world. Being a global community is not only having people of different backgrounds in a room, but truly learning from them. The F-M area is an environmentally and economically rich one, which means that interconnectedness
between worlds is inevitable.
People should invest time in learning more about what is happening outside of the
Midwest to advance their growth and to learn how to adapt to, respect and serve
our ever-changing, beautiful and diverse world. Read a book written by a foreign author, talk to someone who recently moved here or open a global news channel and I guarantee you will discover something new about the world and yourself every time you do that.
What are some misconceptions or clichés of the MENA region?
The Middle East and North African (MENA) region has endless overlapping religions, cultures and ethnicities which makes it so hard to put such a dynamic into words. Unfortunately, the media often chooses to sum it all up with the biggest misconception of being a terrorism-filled desert and freedom-suppressing area for women and non-Muslims, which is nowhere close to reality.
There are instances of wars, terrorism and other social injustices that we continue to fight daily, but these are present everywhere you go in the world. While some countries are harder to live in as a woman or a religious minority, most of the MENA region is extremely advanced, respects personal freedom and is home to some of the most beautiful green mountains, beaches and natural sceneries.
What did you learn growing up between many cultures that you can apply in Fargo?
Many people tend to focus on disparities when looking for common factors is what we really need for a more empathetic and caring community. Growing up between multiple countries and cultures taught me that no matter how different a person is on the outside; you can always find something in common, which helps you overcome the endless stereotypes and misjudgments we are surrounded with. It can be as simple as a shared favorite sport, food, career aspiration, etc. Finding a common point helps people humanize each other, and slowly learn how to accept differences because in the end we are all living in one interconnected world.
What is your vision 2030? Where will you be and why?
Ten years ago, if someone told me that I would be leaving the Middle East and going to North Dakota out of all states for university, I would have said they are crazy. I have learned to accept that unexpected things often happen for the best. I am not sure where exactly in the world I will be in ten years or what I will be doing, but my hope is that I will be somewhere closer to home working with an international NGO, traveling in my free time with family and loved ones and, as cheesy as this sounds, helping make the world a better place every day.