Duha Hamed, a native of Jordan with Palestinian roots, is a graduate of the mathematics department at CMU, where she served as a graduate assistant while pursuing her Ph.D. She has been a Chippewa for six years, and after her successful dissertation defense this past spring, starts her next chapter as an assistant professor at a new university in the U.S. Hamed has left a lasting mark on students, faculty and the greater community. In her words, below, she shares the experiences she has had as an international student and her advice for future students.
CMU and me: A surprising love story
It started with hate, fear and homesickness.
Who can ignore those feelings when you come from the other side of the world to a mysterious place? It was the result of leaving my family, friends and the land I had lived in my whole life; going from a stable, lovable, joyful life to the unknown. I tried very hard at the beginning to pretend I was happy and that I had made the right choice for my small family. But, I was facing a new culture, new people, a different language and a tedious amount of studying and work.
I came to Mount Pleasant six years ago to pursue a Ph.D. in mathematics. My husband, twin two-year-old boys and I had a dream and a vision. We didn't think twice when I took the step to accept the Central Michigan University assistantship offered to me. We thought if we aimed high, we could reach high.
When I arrived at CMU and touched the reality, however, I thought the goal we aimed for was much higher than what we could reach. My studies were so demanding, there was no time for family; I only got to see my kids when they were sleeping. Luckily, I am not the kind of person who accepts failure easily. I kept trying and fighting to prove to myself so that I could do it just like everyone who took this path before me.
I will never forget my first graduate class at CMU. I went to the classroom with a smile, hiding all my tension and the stress behind it. I sat at the very end of the room and took a deep breath. I asked myself, 'Where am I?' once with a smile and once with a tear. The professor walked toward me with a camera and recorded me saying my name and my graduate level. I thought this was something I would see often here in the U.S., and it got me thinking.
I was still daydreaming when the professor called my name to finish the answer on the board by giving him an irrational number. I panicked because, even though I knew the English words irrational and rational, under the talking-for-the first-time stress I could not remember which was which.
Sadness and anger took over my brain, I thought 'it looks like being a graduate student is different here!' And the English sounds different here as well. I knew the answer, but which one – this or that? I started talking to myself – why me? Was my name that easy to remember? What will it feel like to be embarrassed the first day of classes? What image will be associated with my name for later? It's only the first class – the first day – and all this is happening… I have to quit!
It took me time, but finally I answered. Class ended, I ran home crying and wanted to quit, to leave and go back home. But after awhile, I realized quitting was not an option, and I decided to hope for better luck in future classes.
As a result of all the hard work in the first two years, I started to see CMU from different angles. I am talking about feelings and perspectives. The mathematics department I used to hate, where I would spend long nights working at my office, became my second cozy home where I spent most of my days. That same professor who put me on the spot that first class is now one of my greatest mentors. The students, staff and faculty became my new beloved family with whom I share my tears of homesickness, worries and also joys. Mount Pleasant's fresh air after regular morning runs around the pretty campus became the sweetener for my morning coffee. Through teaching, I was able to prove myself as a teaching assistant. I received awards for tutoring and teaching during my second year.
This past spring, all too soon, I began hunting for a job. After many interviews I accepted an assistant professor job at another great university with great people. I am looking forward to working with them next year. May arrived, and I started the countdown for the graduation ceremony and my dissertation defense. Finally, I proudly graduated with a Ph.D. from CMU with an excellent GPA and happily ended this wonderful chapter of my life!
Just like anyone else, I love traveling. But, whatever trip I take, the minute I see the welcome sign returning to Mount Pleasant, the only thing that crosses my mind is how nice it is to be home!
To future students planning to come from far away and take the path I took, be assured that you can do it! It's not magic, it is not impossible, and by trying hard at the beginning, it's doable. Never judge people silently by how they look, and if you want to learn about a group of people then meet them, talk to them. Don't trust Google on the answers it gives you – in the end Google has opinions, too. Sadly, sometimes those opinions are not true.
The diploma must not be your only target – make sure to enrich your friendships by having friends from different cultures and beliefs. Don't spend all your days between the books – get out, get involved in the community and leave your stamp on CMU!
Last, but not least, make sure to show your CMU pride wherever you go.