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Up for the Challenge

Sisters from Jerusalem Find Ways to Make UAlbany Home

Sisters Abeer (left) and Maddy Awawdeh are finding their way in a new country, with help from UAlbany. (Photos by Naomi McPeters)

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 7, 2017) – For two sisters from Jerusalem, Israel, UAlbany has presented the challenges and learning experiences that have begun to shape their lives in America.

Abeer and Maddy Awawdeh arrived in the United States a little over a year and a half ago to live near Saratoga with her father and another sister, Zeyna, who grew up in the U.S. All three sisters – Maddy is a freshman, Abeer, a sophomore and Zeyna, a senior – attend UAlbany, commuting daily.

Aaron Proffitt from the East Asian Studies Department has been a mentor to Abeer Awawdeh, helping her adjust to University life.

“My biggest obstacle is studying itself, is the language. I email my professors at the beginning of the semester for help with that. They are really nice to me,” says Maddy.

Abeer feels much the same way: “I speak English well but academic is not the same as speaking. I can carry on a conversation, yes, but I can’t really read whole articles the way I do in my language.”

Professors, particularly Aaron Proffitt, an assistant professor in from the Department of East Asian Studies, have been more than willing to help. He has met with Abeer during office hours to go over assignments with her, in some cases, line by line.

“Abeer put out a lot of effort," says Proffitt. “She was clearly struggling, but was willing to work hard. Living abroad is hard. Culture shock is really just the stress of being in a new place, and when you can’t effectively communicate that stress, it can be almost debilitating.”

By finding professors like Proffitt and offices like the Community and Public Service Program (CPSP), both Abeer and Maddy are beginning to navigate their new world at UAlbany by not only communicating that stress, but by channeling it into serving the Albany community.

Both volunteer for credit through CPSP. Last semester, Abeer was on the Center for Women in Government and Civil Society team that measured the impact of the Breathing Lights public art exhibit. Maddy, an aspiring therapist, spends her time at the South End Children's Cafe in Albany, cooking and serving nutritious meals to low-income families in a restaurant-like setting.

“Since Arabic, not English, is my first language, it’s interesting to communicate with kids who don’t speak the same language that I do. It feels pretty good,” says Maddy, intends to pursue Psychology and Social Welfare majors with minors in French and globalization.

Abeer, a biology major minoring in Chinese and math, wants to go to medical school and become a children’s doctor. She knows it will be a struggle to get there, but that is her goal. “If I had the chance to humbly describe my experiences I would say that sometimes I wanted to accept it as a losing fight. But I came to realize that there are people who are willing to fight with you if you are ready.”

With her sister at her side, Abeer is ready and fighting, and at UAlbany, she is finding she’s not alone.

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