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A little about Maha Hassan, international student

Maha Hassan, an international student from Jordan, at the Arabic conversation table in the Student Life Center in Bldg. 2 on the Salem campus.

Maha Hassan, an international student from Jordan, at the Arabic conversation table in the Student Life Center in Bldg. 2 on the Salem campus. Photo by Brad Bakke.

A little about Maha Hassan, international student 

By Nick McAvoy 

Chemeketa’s Multicultural Center is a great way for students to connect with each other and celebrate the college’s focus on diversity.

International student Maha Hassan is a prime example.

Hassan is an international exchange student from Jordan who currently works in the Multicultural Student Services program.

Hassan has long, dark hair and dresses in what could be called Western casual, wearing jeans and a jacket. She’s been in the United States for a year, spending all of that time in Oregon.

When she learns that her story is worthy of appearing in the college newspaper, she moans and does a double face-palm, as if she’s already afraid.

It’s clear that she’s shy, but she nervously agrees to open up a little bit about how she ended up at Chemeketa.

After all, this isn’t the first time that she’s tried something completely foreign to her.

Hassan is a Palestinian who spent her first 25 years in her home nation before coming to the United States this year.

Jordan, in the heart of the Middle East, is surrounded by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, and Israel. A may be a daily headline here; but to Hassan, it’s home: the place where she grew up and first went to school.

Her English is good, but that’s hardly surprising. She started learning the language when she was 12.

“At my school, I had to learn English,” she says. “There are no electives in Jordan.”

Hassan is not complaining. Everyone learns English in Jordan.

“Now they are teaching English to students even before kindergarten age,” she says.

Learning the language allowed Hassan to follow in her family’s footsteps and come to the United States to attend college.

“My older sisters and cousins came over here first and became residents years ago,” she says. “I am not the first person in my family to attend Chemeketa Community College.”

One relative first attended Chemeketa in the 1990s and is still living here. Hassan is now living with her while she attends school.

Outside of a few family members, everything and everyone was new to her.

“When I came to Chemeketa, I didn’t know anyone,” she says, laughing.

Maybe that’s why her favorite aspect of Chemeketa is the Multicultural Center, where she currently works as a team leader.

The reason is simple: She says that the center allows her to meet students, from Oregon as well as from other nations, which in turn helps make her more comfortable in her new surroundings.

Linda Ringo-Reyna, Hassan’s supervisor, says that she has seen a great deal of development from her student in the past year.

“It’s been so great to see Maha become more and more involved with Multicultural Student Services this past year. She brings a unique cultural background to our program,” Ringo-Reyna says.

The center’s director also is quick to point out its benefits to the college.

“The Multicultural Center provides all students with a place of inclusion,” she says.

Ringo-Renya says that Hassan is just one example of how important the Multicultural Student Services program can be for students with diverse backgrounds.

Hassan agrees.

“I like working for Linda, and everyone in the Multicultural Center was very welcoming to me,” she says. “Sometimes people would smile and say hi to me even though they didn’t know who I was. If it wasn’t for the Multicultural Center, I wouldn’t have wanted to stay.”

But meeting new friends is not the only thing that Hassan enjoys about the center.

“I like the events,” she says.

Shortly after becoming a team leader for Multicultural Student Services, Hassan was one of the coordinators who helped host the Arab Culture Celebration that took place during the fall term.

According to Payvand Mehr, one of Hassan’s fellow team members, “Maha helped contribute to the Arab Culture Celebration by speaking at the event and encouraging her fellow international students to speak as well.

“Not only did she help make everyone feel welcome at the event; she also introduced us to a traditional Palestinian dance routine that is very common in her culture.”

Most of the events that the center puts on are completely foreign to Hassan, but she’ll tell you that is the reason why she’s interested and willing to learn something new.

“The events help me to learn about the different American cultures, even though I don’t always do as much planning for them as I did for the Arab Culture Celebration,” she says.

Besides working as a team leader in the Multicultural Center, Hassan also serves as an English-Arabian translator in the International Student Services program at Chemeketa.

Teter Kapan, who heads the college’s international program, says, “It’s really admirable how much time and effort she will give to others.”

While Hassan helps students at Chemeketa learn about her culture, she ultimately came here to learn about the United States.

And yes, there are differences.

“Driving here is much less stressful,” Hassan says. “The buildings and roads are more spread out here than they are at home. In my country, everything is much more compacted together, and there are people everywhere. It’s much easier to drive around the city here than it is in Jordan.”

Hassan doesn’t have to think hard about what she dislikes about living in Salem, either.

“I don’t like the weather,” she says. “It’s too cold and rainy. I miss the sun. The snow is too much. I hate being stuck inside for days.”

But the warm weather isn’t the only thing that Hassan misses from home.

“I miss the crowds,” she says. “In Palestinian culture, people always come outside to socialize with each other. We play games and sing songs and dance in the streets. That’s what I miss the most about home.”

She notes other differences as well.

“America is very multicultural. Everyone has their own customs, and everyone has their own beliefs,” she says.

Traditions play a large role in Jordanian society. For example, almost everyone in Palestinian culture wears a scarf called a keffiyeh.  To Palestinians, the scarf represents a symbol of peace.

Hassan notes that the keffiyeh is worn differently by men and women, but it is more than just a fashion statement.

Hassan says she was surprised that the United States doesn’t have similar traditions.

In America, she says, almost everyone wears blue jeans, but there is no real cultural tradition behind that trend.

Hassan says she thinks the main reason there are fewer traditions in the United States is that the USA was built by immigrants from diverse cultures less than 300 years ago. She comes from a culture that has occupied the same place for thousands of years and has established traditions and customs though long centuries.

Hassan says, “There is much more history in Jordan than there is in America.”

The way that Americans treat romantic relationships is an example of the cultural differences that Hassan notes.

“Romantic relationships are much more public in America,” she says. “Here, people don’t care about others seeing them with someone from the opposite sex. That doesn’t happen in Palestinian culture.”

But there’s more to it.

“Sometimes people will have to keep things a secret,” she says of her own country. “You don’t have to do that here in America.”

Despite the cultural differences that Hassan has experienced this past year, she plans on remaining in the United States for the near future, at least.

“I’m still figuring out what degree I want to study for,” she says.

After all, she only just got here, and there’s always more to learn.

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