Vilousa Hahembe, Global UGRAD visiting student, studied at Chatham University in Spring 2023. She took classes in economics and was involved on-campus with several student organizations. In February, Vilousa was one of four students to presented on “My Generation: Societal expectations from around the world” and shared her experiences navigating the differences between her home country and the United States. After her program at Chatham ended and she returned home, Vilousa is still working to share her experiences. She met with US Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken, during his visit to Papua New Guinea.
Vilousa Hahembe, Global UGRAD scholar and Chatham University visiting student, in red.
Habibullah Sorosh is a professor, screenwriter, and playwright whose research includes the history of Afghan cinema, the structural effects of absurdist dramas, and Kazakh historical films. Born in the Jaghori district, Ghazni province of Afghanistan, Habibullah received his Bachelor of Cinema and Theater from the Department of Fine Arts at Kabul University and Master of Art Criticism at Kazakh National Academy of Arts Temorbek Zhurgenov. For the past ten years, Habibullah has been a professor at Kabul University in the Department of Fine Arts and Dramatic Literature. He is currently a Visiting Researcher in the Schools of Drama and Art at Carnegie Mellon University.
Born as Habibullah on October 28, 1985, in a relatively poor family, Habib is the 5th child of Juma Khan and Hakima. Juma Khan was a hard working farmer focusing on growing wheat, the most important crop in Afghanistan, followed by rice, barley, and cotton. Hakima was a housewife who did household jobs and raised their children. She also helped Juma Khan with farming, which is common for Afghan women living in rural villages. Juma Khan was a kind person known for his honesty within his community. He was like a friend to Habib and his siblings. Hakima was a smart woman, and she was always a good adviser in Habib’s life.
Habib has four living brothers (Rohullah, Mohammad Sharif, Mohammad Zarif and Mirza Hussain) and two living sisters (Jamila and Najiba). His oldest brother named Mohammad Asif was lost on his way to Iran in 2010, and still no one knows what happened to him, but after these many years, Habib and his family have accepted that he may have died. Another older brother Rahmatullah got Hepatitis, which damaged his liver, and died in 2012. Mohammad Asif had a Bachelor of Philosophy and Rahmatullah had studied up to 6th grade of high school. His living brothers Rohullah and Mohammad Sharif studied up to 8th grade of high school. Mohammad Zarif is a dentist, and his younger brother Mirza Hussain has a Bachelor in Dramatic Literature. His older sister Jamila only finished primary school. However, his younger sister Najiba has a Bachelor in Cinema.
Growing in a small village named Shahrzaida, a historical place, in Jaghori district, Habib attended Abu Raihan al Beroni public school from 1992 to 2004. During all those years, Habib was a smart student who always got the first place in class. The most influential person in his life was his teacher named Afzali who was a kind and humble person. He was Habib’s first grade teacher who not only educated him, but also helped him to find his educational path. He got cancer and died in 2019.
One most memorable experience of Habib’s life during high school is when he was in the 11th grade. One of his classmates had four members of his family as teachers who helped him to cheat and take the first place in class. Habib, therefore, got the second place in class. Habib complained to the administration of the school, and after taking the exams given by school committee members, he achieved his first place in class again. This incident made Habib very sad. He felt his family’s financial situation affected his education. By giving bribes and having family relationships with the teachers, someone took his position in the class. However, he wanted to show everyone that they couldn’t take his intelligence from him. His self-confidence and hope for a better tomorrow motivated him to stand against this inequity.
After high school, Habib attended Kabul University, and after four years (2006-2009), he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Theater and Cinema. In 2012, he started his Master of Art Criticism Science program with a specialty in Film Studies in the Kazakh National Academy of Art named after Temorbek Zhorgenov in Kazakhstan and finished his degree in 2015.
After his master’s studies, in 2015, Habib married Adila, who was a midwife, in Kabul, Afghanistan. They have two sons (Sami and Nima), Sami was born on August 16th, 2016, and Nima was born on April 2nd, 2020.
During his career, Habib had a lot of cultural and social activities in Afghanistan. In 2015, he was selected many times as a member of a judge panel in film, theater, and dramatic literature in national and international festivals. In 2017, he achieved the award for the best playwright among a large number of nominees from different countries for his drama about Maulana Jalaluddin Mohammad Balkhi (Rumi) in an international festival in India. Habib has also authored two books named “Characterization in Drama” in 2017 and “Criticism of Dramatic Literature” in 2019. He has also written and published several scientific articles for national and international journals during these years.
Unfortunately, in 2021, the Taliban took over Kabul and Afghanistan, which forced him to leave the country because the Taliban has a very hostile relationship with art and artists in Afghanistan. He was a taboo artist in their eyes. Furthermore, he has written and directed many plays and screenplays about the Taliban, al-Qaeda, sheikhs, ISIS, and warlords of the region, all of whom wanted an opportunity to exact revenge on him. He has shown many plays at the Afghan National Festival and at international festivals. He has written a play called “The Unsung Song of the Village,” in which his sister (Najiba Sorosh) played the central role. This performance seriously criticized and ridiculed the views and ideology of the Taliban, ISIS, al-Qaeda, sheikhs, and warlords. This performance and his plays were widely reported in the media, such as the BBC and other news sites. As a result, he was threatened with death by the Taliban, who attempted to arrest him and his sister several times but were unsuccessful.
Finally, when the Taliban started house-to-house searches in Kabul, Afghanistan, he and his family (his wife and his two sons) had to flee to Pakistan, and then they came to the United States of America with the cooperation of the organization Scholars at Risk. He is currently a Visiting Researcher in the Schools of Drama and Art at Carnegie Mellon University, where he is researching the fields of theater, cinema, and art theory.
I grew up as a normal child in my home country. I had a good childhood. While sometimes it was difficult, I just did not care because I was just a child who did not know the good and the bad in the world yet. As a child I was certain about one thing in my life: I would not have a normal life just like other people in my hometown. My mother’s work always encouraged as she was an activist and a teacher in our province, and she had a significant role in our community and family education. So, I decided by myself at a noticeably early age of 11 or 12 that I would make a change, even a ridiculously small change, on my life one other person. I dreamed of becoming a doctor, which remained my one and only childhood dream, and wanted to have a doctor’s office and save as many lives as I could because of our country’s situation. I remember that whenever we played games with my childhood friends, I always had a doctor’s role and help my friends,
I had lots of activities during my high school. I played a significant role in every event in school, and I was the presenter for all those events, even for our graduation party. I prepared a topic for all my classmates. I had interviews with our local radio and TV shows for women and children’s rights. Despite all of the difficulties in my home city in northern Afghanistan, I graduated from high school. However, there was no medical school and few opportunities to chase my goals, so I decided, or may I say my parents decided, that it would be better for me to move to another city. So I moved to a bigger city named Balkh and my medical school journey started.
I was the happiest person on earth at that time and my medical school was the best school for me, and everything was surprisingly good for me because I had the chance to study medicine, which was also a dream for all my classmates. On the first day of my medical school, our professor asked us about our plans, so I spoke louder and talked more about my plans and dreams. I said that after I graduated from the medical school, I would like to become a cardiologist and a heart surgeon because I never saw a woman surgeon in my province and to help women and children in my home country.
In 2021, I started my 7th semester of medical school. I said to myself that I did it, I passed half of the way of my journey, and I was close to achieving my dreams. Unfortunately, the situation in my country did not allow me to continue that dream anymore. I had to leave to be safe and have a future for us, for our families, and our children. During that time, I lost everything except my dreams. I came to the U.S. with only one backpack, but as I know myself, I am not that person to give up easily. I promised to myself that I would make a change to women’s life in my country and I would be their voice and fight for women’s rights. Obviously I am thinking that I am becoming a feminist day by day.
I came to the US, and I tried to work hard and achieve what I wanted to be and my goals. Currently I am taking English academic classes at Chatham university at Pittsburgh PA, millions, and millions miles from my home country and hometown. There are many things that I am grateful for in my life since I came to the USA. I met people from all over the world with a different languages and appearances, and it was surprising to me first. I never met people from another countries like Japan in my home country. My goals are to finish the English academic classes and apply to one of the medical school pathways for medical universities in USA.
Life hasn’t been essay for me. I know everyone is struggling with a lot in their lives right now and it is hard to start your life from zero and left everything behind. It takes time, so we all should be patient and continue to work hard. Everyone has their own dreams and thoughts. We should never stop being who we are and what we want to be, and in the end we are all humans who work together for this land that has become home for all of us.
Almost 3 months has already passed since I came to the US. It is only 3 months in my life, but I have experienced a lot. I have studied English since I was a junior high school student because Japanese students must study English in Japanese education. However, this education is not enough for me to speak English fluently because students mainly study English grammar and writing. There are no opportunities to talk to native English speakers. I want to be a flight attendant in the future, so I decided to study English at university when I was a high school student. However, my university education is not an ideal environment to focus on studying English. Gradually, I became lazy to study English, so I lost my goal without my noticing. When I became a 2nd-year student, I noticed that I could not keep going like these days to achieve my goal. Therefore, I decided to come to Chatham University to improve my English.
After I came here, I felt like I was going to falter many times because of my English skills and my personality. When I met my roommate for the first time, she asked me, “Do you have a nail file?” I could not understand what she said because I did not know the word “nail file.” I was confused and I could not answer her immediately. And then she said, “It’s ok.” I was shocked that I could not communicate fluently with an English speaker. I fully realized my lack of English skills at that time. After that day, I was confused when listening to English, speaking English, and writing English again and again. I cried every night because I did not like myself then. I could barely keep up with my classes. However, I gradually get used to listening to English and started to feel better. Nowadays, there are some words that I cannot understand, but I can make sense of almost all of what my teacher means. I try to achieve my goal to make sense of what is said in English in normal conversations.
Nevertheless, I still have time when I feel depressed. When that happens, I remember the phrase from my mom, “Learning to push a little harder is a powerful thing.” My mom gave me these words after I came to the US because I wanted encouraging words to overcome the times when I am worried about my English skills. My mother went to Canada for about one year to study English like me when she was a university student. She could not speak English at first, but she was able to speak English fluently at the end of studying abroad. Now, she is my English teacher at home. I am proud of my mom and want to be like her. I got confidence from her many times when I felt depressed. My family encourages me every time, so I want to show my family how I have grown by studying abroad when I go back to Japan. This is one of the goals that I try to do my best here.
One day, I took notes for this essay. I usually write notes before start writing an essay to sort my head out. I put the note on my desk just like I always do, and then I went out to take my class. After I went back to my room, I found a note from my roommate. While reading the note, I was moved to tears in spite of myself. In the note, there are many cheerful words to me: “Know that you have your roommate on your side.” I noticed that I’m not alone and I have such a wonderful roommate. I struggle to build relationships with American friends because I could not gather the courage to talk to them even my roommate. If I have any worries or questions and I want to ask my roommate, I could not do so due to my hesitation. I’m not brave enough, but now I just do it without thinking too much thanks to my roommate.
Leaving home is hard. Moving across the world is even harder. However, I have many memories here. I have made friends from different countries, known the difficulties of studying a foreign language, learned the different ways of thinking in each country, and experienced many precious memories that I can never forget. I cannot write down everything in this essay, but I can say with confidence that I’m doing my best now! Finally, I’d like to share my favorite words “Don’t forget, beautiful sunset needs cloudy skies.” It means there are good times and bad times in life or after you experience hardship, good things will happen to you. If I want to cope with and overcome something, I have to make an effort. Everyone can do everything if they have courage.
Since I was a child, I’ve always wanted to live abroad. I’ve always wanted to learn to speak different languages. I’ve always wanted to know about different cultures. My first experience living abroad was at the age of 10 when my parents decided to move from Cali, Colombia, the city that I am from, to Volcan, Panama. This little town is known for its peaceful atmosphere, and many foreigners, mostly from the United States and Germany, live there. I remember going to public places and trying to communicate with kids at my age in English. I didn’t speak that much, but I was able to understand a lot because my mom used to talk to me in English. I felt extremely happy when I started making friends and speaking in another language. Unfortunately, we decided to move back to Cali for various reasons, one of which was that we missed our family and friends and weren’t used to living in a small town after spending our entire lives in big cities.
Years later, when I graduated from high school, I decided to choose a career related to languages. My lifelong ambition has been to learn five languages, and I speak three already (English, Spanish, and French). I decided to pursue a career in foreign languages at the University of Santiago de Cali. While I was studying at the university, I worked as an English teacher in a school and as a French teacher in another institute. As my graduation date approached, I was resolved that once I completed my study, I would look an opportunity to live abroad. I didn’t want to live in Colombia anymore; I wanted to know the world; I wanted to know other cultures; I wanted to improve my English; I wanted to improve my French, and I wanted to have that cultural experience living abroad. I decided to look for options and I found an au pair program in the US. After talking to my parents, I applied to the au pair program, which is how I ended up living here.
When I started looking for families in the au pair program, I found a family that was in Pittsburgh. To be completely honest, I’d never heard of Pittsburgh before as it’s not as popular as New York, Miami, San Francisco, or Chicago. When I decided to come here, people asked me, “Why Pittsburgh?” I looked up the city and discovered that it had many good universities and a Latino population that wasn’t very large, so I could immerse myself in the language, which was perfect. Yes!! Pittsburgh was the city that I was looking for. Finally, I graduated from the university in December 2019 and moved to the United States in February 2020. I was living a dream. I had previously visited the United States on vacation in New York, but I didn’t practice English that much. I mostly spoke Spanish, so coming to a city where I could practice English was ideal. The first two weeks were great; everything was going well for me; everything was beautiful—the buildings, the city, speaking English every single day, going shopping—I was experiencing my dream cultural immersion. Unfortunately, two weeks after the lockdown began, I spent several months experiencing the opposite. After the lockdown was over, I began to travel, visiting New York, Los Angeles, Malibu, Santa Monica, and Myrtle Beach from June to December 2020. I was happy again.
When I finished my program as an au pair in February 2022, I decided that I wanted to study in the US, so I applied for a student visa at Chatham, and I was accepted into the English Language Program. I’ve learned a lot about grammar, vocabulary, composition, and communication. My goal is to be accepted into a graduate program in international relations, and I believe that was a good choice to apply to the ELP program at Chatham. So far, it has been great living here. I love the city. Still, when I meet a new person and they know that I am from Colombia, they ask me, “Why did you choose Pittsburgh to live in?” I just said that it was one of the best decisions that I have made. Why Pittsburgh? Because I love practicing the language every day. Why Pittsburgh? Because it isn’t that small or big, which makes it perfect. Why Pittsburgh? Because I love having the four seasons here, seeing the bridges, and enjoying its old infrastructure. Why Pittsburgh? Because I love the Steelers, even though I am still learning about football. Why Pittsburgh? Because this city has opened its doors to me, and I feel so comfortable living here. Why Pittsburgh? Because I have gained cultural knowledge living here, and I wouldn’t change it to live somewhere else. Why Pittsburgh? Because it is the first city where I have lived abroad by myself, and I am planning to stay. If I had to pick a city for cultural immersion again, I would pick Pittsburgh again.
Life hasn’t been easy since I arrived in the United States. I came here with my dreams in mind, thinking that everything was going to be a perfect fairytale, but it was also my first time facing the world by myself in a completely different way. The truth is that I had never had to deal with adulthood on my own before coming here. Everything involving adult responsibilities would make me terrified, so I would always dream my way out of everything. Three weeks after my arrival, the pandemic happened. It was hard at first. I didn’t know what to do since I was new here, so having to live with an American host family while being in lockdown under a pandemic instead of living with my own family wouldn’t have been my first choice. I was so terrified that I considered leaving. At the same time, it was exciting, so I stayed. The best part of it all is that never would I have imagined that it was going to be my experience in the United States that would make me become the realistic dreamer that I am now.
Everyone that knows me knows that I’ve always wanted to be in the United States and speak English all day long. In fact, my friends and I would always joke about me being best friends with the Kardashians and being extremely successful in Hollywood, since I’m known for being an acting, music and makeup enthusiast. When I first arrived, I was a different person. I was excited and nervous about my future. (Well, that hasn’t changed much). I used to be more of a dreamer. I used to believe that everything was going to be like a fairytale. Turns out that life isn’t a fairytale, and I found that out the hard way. For a person like me, full of dreams and hopes, it was hard to face reality since no one taught me how to be realistic when I was younger.
I believe that childhood is an important part of what makes you who you are. It is true that you have the choice to change and to decide whether you want to keep making the same choices and mistakes or if you want to turn your life around, but it is hard to completely change if you’ve been raised a certain way. My story hasn’t been easy- nobody’s story is easy- but I can only speak for myself. The reason why I think I’m a dreamer is because in my childhood I needed to escape from my reality. One of the people who protected me from family traumas is my grandma. She encouraged me to think about another world and to use my imagination to ignore the pain of the violence happening just on the other side of the door. Thanks to that, I was able to travel in my imagination and to dream about being happy in a world that was violence free. I would also picture myself as an artist on a stage or in a movie set. That’s where I escaped the most. I don’t blame my mom or dad, and certainly not my siblings. I believe they are all victims of their stories and how they were raised. It’s just a vicious cycle. The priority that my parents gave me while growing up wasn’t much, so I had to learn most things about life for myself. Being here alone has been teaching me all about adulthood that I didn’t know. I truly love my parents; it just feels like I had to raise myself.
Since I arrived in the US, I found out that adulthood is interesting. One of my favorite parts has been learning to be independent. I’m learning how to take care of myself, pay bills, buy groceries, and all the things that adults do. It isn’t always fun though. I miss when I didn’t have to worry about anything, but also the challenge is great because it shows me how capable I am of achieving things for and by myself. My perspective of life has changed. I have become more independent, responsible and patient. Now not only am I a dreamer still, but I’m also more realistic and analytical, which may help me to achieve my dreams in the most rational way possible. I can still picture myself following the arts and being successful, but it may be not as magical as I used to believe it would be. Being here and having learnt all that I have, I know that the climb is going to be hard (if it isn’t already) and that I might not make my dreams come true, but one thing I know for sure is that I made the right decision coming to the United States, a country that may allow me to achieve my dreams just by combining them with my reality.
Students and community members came together for the International Symposium to explore the theme “Building Mutual Understanding for a Peaceful World”.
Presenters included keynote speaker RaMa, a Sudanese activist and author. RaMa has published two novels and a short story collection to great international critical acclaim. She is currently a writer-in-residence at City of Asylum Pittsburgh.
Students presented speeches and posters on a variety of topics, including religion, marriage, cultural differences, study abroad, and kindness across cultures!
Globally Green: Vira I. Heinz Scholar Presentation
Participants learned about sustainability in Italy and Jordan from Vira I Heinz Scholarship program scholars Mikaela and Isabel. Dr. Lehrer discussed sustainable farming and agriculture in Costa Rica, and Dr. Julier provided an overview of the projects and initiatives of CRAFT at Eden Hall campus. CRAFT, or the Center for Regional Agriculture, Food, and Transformation, works to transform the future of food and agriculture in Western Pennsylvania and beyond. Speakers provided information on opportunities to volunteer and impact the sustainability of the local area. Everyone was invited to sample some foods from Italy and Jordan.
International Snacks with ISA/TEAN
Sara Kochuba from Worldstrides shared information on ISA [studiesabroad.com] and TEAN [teanabroad.org] study and intern abroad opportunities during summer and semester long programs. Students sampled tasty snacks from abroad.
Students of modern languages gathered in the Carriage House for International Karaoke! Students sang to practice their language skills in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish!
This relaxing event fostered engagement and conversation among Chatham students and community members. Participants joined in for conversation, snacks, games, and tea!
By Chihiro Sakagami, Exchange Student at Chatham University
“Shut the front door!” “Did I get 63 points! Seriously!?”
This is my reaction when I got an alphabet test result in junior high school, and this tragic event led me to think about my American life negatively.
Due to my father’s job transfer with Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, I lived in the U.S. between the ages of 1 and 5, and I went to Ann Arbor Hills Child Development Center in Michigan during those five years. I gained innumerable experiences, such as making many American friends, holding a birthday party at a dinosaur museum, visiting states in the U.S., and acquiring easy Spanish vocabularies. If I had not lived here, I would not have experienced these cherished experiences in my life. After I came back to Japan and started elementary school, my teacher asked me to hold English lessons for my classmates, and she gave me some opportunities to talk about my memories abroad. I loved telling my story so much that I might have talked a lot then. In elementary school, I believed that because I was good at speaking English, I must be able to get a higher score than other Japanese students.
The first English exam at junior high school came. It was the easiest exam I have ever taken because the only thing that I had to do was to fill the blanks with letters in the alphabet in the right order. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sing the ABC song in the middle of the exam, especially through N to P, which made the task of remembering the alphabet suddenly impossible for me. I remember I sang that song like “…H, I, J, K L, #$%&#$%#, O, P.” One week later, I got the result, and found it to be an impressively low score, 63 points. “What was the point of my life in Michigan? Why did so many other students get 100 points?” I lost sight of myself. I began to feel a kind of guilty of the way I spent time in Michigan and my English proficiency. Since I’m a very competitive person, I started to study English diligently and energetically with my mother who I admire as a fluent English speaker to get a good grade in the next English test. Moreover, I studied English by listening to Taylor Swift’s RED album. However, lamentably, I couldn’t get the top grade in the English test in my class throughout junior high and high school. From my perspective, the reason why I couldn’t succeed in the English tests was that I couldn’t understand the English grammar. In the lecture, my teacher often used words which were difficult for me to recognize, such as adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, and prepositions. I haven’t heard of those words when I learned English in the U.S. I still cannot believe that other students could understand the grammar which makes me feel nauseous even now.
When I was a third-grade junior high school student, I got a ticket to become a school representative in the English Speech contest for students in Aichi prefecture where I lived. To join the competition and win a gold medal was my greatest dream. I did rigorous practice every day with my mother, my American uncle, and a teacher I respected the most in order to make my dream come true. They praised me, “You are a fluent English speaker with good pronunciation and body language.” I got more courage from their support and encouragement, and I started to imagine that I could be a school representative of the speech contest by passing the audition and win at the final English contest. Although I gave my best shot, I lost the audition, and was not able to participate in the contest that I had dreamed of. I realized it is unfeasible to win something regarding English, and I wanted to delete the memory of living in the U.S. This shame and guilt lasted long, throughout my high school and college years, until one miraculous encounter at a café during my stay in Pittsburgh during my summer study-abroad program at Chatham University.
It was a scorching hot day. I found a café in Southside Flats called La Petit Café and Grille. I saw a man sending me a cute smile through the window, so I decided to have lunch there. I ordered a Western Omelet. It was delicious, but I was alone. Two women came into the café and sat next to me. I mustered up the courage to talk to them, “Would you mind if I spent lunch time with you? I am feeling a little bit lonely now.” They said “Absolutely!!” I was cock-a-hoop because they accepted my request. We talked about each other’s country, culture, my artworks, and my life in Michigan. Surprisingly, we talked about Michigan most of the time. And also, I could understand things they shared about their life in the U.S. without having to ask for paraphrasing. We talked for more than one hour, maybe two hours. We were so into the conversation that we forgot all about time. Why could I keep talking for two hours? After I said goodbye to them, I thought in my mind and recognized that it was because I had experienced living in the U.S. I had many memories and knowledge about living in the U.S. to talk about. Before I met them, I felt ashamed of my lifetime in the U.S. because I could not get better grades in speaking and writing English, even though I have an advantage over other students. This shame had been torturing me. However, thanks to this wonderful meeting, I realized I must live life without ever forgetting my feelings of appreciation towards my American life.
Maybe some people have experiences and backgrounds that they are ashamed of. However, I learned that memories have the potential to help you in the future just as my experience in America helped me talk with people for two hours. I now have a changed mindset to appreciate everything that has happened before. If I could go back to talk to my 13-year-old self, I would tell her, “Don’t care too much about your English exam score. Your experience and memories will help you to flourish in the future.”
Office of International Affairs, Chatham University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, email@example.com, www.chatham.edu/academics/international