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Professors from abroad discuss transition to ND

Nicole Toczauer | Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Several Notre Dame professors first knew the United States as a foreign country. Professor Ghada Bualuan from the Classics department moved to the United States from Lebanon after marrying her husband.

“At first it was hard and very challenging, for I missed Lebanon so much. I missed my family and friends,” she said. “I felt awfully lonely.”

For others though, the transition was not as difficult.

Professor Olivier Morel, from the Romance Languages and Literatures department, said he had few problems moving from France to America.

“Perhaps it was because of my experiences, because [I moved here for] love,” he said. “But I did not struggle with moving here.

Morel said, however, that everyone has to adjust to acclimate themselves to a new environment. From mannerisms in social interactions to adapting to a new diet, every aspect of life changes, he said.

“The human body and mind goes through a cultural change,” Morel said. Pointing to a hot dog on his desk, he added, “I would have never eaten this for lunch before.”

Several professors said they lost sense of community.

Professor Mahan Mirza from the Classics department said in his homeland of Pakistan, people seemed more connected.

“We would come out and play in the wonderful neighborhoods. You would know the people at the local store,” he said, speaking of his childhood. “It felt very organic and connected. Here you tend to feel a little more isolated.”

Bualuan also commented on this feature of American society. She said differences in tradition, while respected, could cause a person to be set apart.

“I, like many other Arabs in America, have faced prejudice and some sort of discrimination. I didn’t initially feel that most people accepted me for who I am, but I didn’t take it personally,” she said. “However, this fact made it difficult for me to truly belong.”

In Pakistan, Mirza said religion is widespread, though its actual practice depends on each family.

“[My family] was pretty secular, though my mother was devout and would pray,” he said. “Being a Muslim country, you hear the call for prayer five times a day.”

While religion was more immediately present in his life while growing up, Mirza said coming to the U.S. allowed him to discover his identity.

“You ask all the questions you never asked before. What does it mean to be religious? You have to make a choice now,” he said. “I began to take religion more seriously to keep my grounding and give myself some bearings.”

Taken from another perspective, Morel said the feature that differentiates the United States from other countries is its relationship with war.

“America is at war, but we don’t see any signs. I thought this would be a good time to come to the U.S. and witness what is happening to a society in a country I love,” Morel said. “In the United States, I have met people who have never been involved in a war.”

Morel said this relationship transforms an entire society. War is often ignored, not out of disrespect, but simply because of everyday life.

There are parts of everyday life that Morel said he enjoys.

“This is a joke: You have wonderful beds, wonderful chairs — the first thing I notice when I go back to France is that my back hurts — and wonderful showers,” he said. “You invented V8 and the free refill.”

Mirza said the quality of this nation’s academic institutions are distinguishable from other countries.

“The academic institutions here are very strong. I can’t imagine giving up an opportunity [to work here]. Nonetheless, there are institutions coming up in the Muslim world like Pakistan,” he said. “You wonder sometimes if you would do a service by moving back and helping to uplift your homeland.

Especially at Notre Dame, Morel said, the world of academia is thriving.

“We are doing things here that we could never do in France. Universities there are more conservative,” he said. “Notre Dame is often seen as traditional, but when it comes to the Arts and Letters, the level of freedom that we have here is incomparable.”