For this class, I had the incredible opportunity to interview a fellow classmate from a country and culture different from my own, both ethnically and religiously, which shed new light on the experience that an international student may have here in Salt Lake City, Utah. I learned
that through attending Salt Lake Community College, Mohammed Elsayed, was able to make acquaintances, but that it was mainly his Muslim religion which provided him with a place (his mosque) he could go to and make friends, perhaps because of their shared faith or witty sense of humor. What really struck me though was that despite his strong work ethic and how he excelled in his studies, he had a challenging time finding employment, which he attributes to his name, Mohammed. I was not necessarily surprised by what he said, but rather, I was disappointed in how he was not even considered for multiple positions, unassumingly due to cultural, religious, or racial discrimination. Another issue he has run into time and time again here in Salt Lake City, is the complicated dating scene. I say “complicated” because Mohammed is of the Muslim faith, and the majority of single, young women in Utah practice Mormonism. He was told, on more than one account, that he could not date someone he was romantically attracted to or interested in unless her converted from his faith to theirs. In my single and dating years, I never came across such a thing being said to me, but then again, I was not living here at that time. Sadly, I feel that those young women really missed out on getting to know an incredibly intelligent and funny person.
This assignment impacted me in ways that I had not expected. I found myself identifying with Mohammed’s family life, and his rebellious nature, as well as his refreshing perspective on what he envisions for the future. It wasn’t that I thought I was incapable of identifying with someone born in North Africa while I was born in Northwest Indiana or someone who was raised Muslim while I was raised Catholic. Rather, it was that we both know what it is like to grow up poor, be reared by our Grandmothers, and rebel against our emotionally and physically unavailable fathers. Mohammed and I seem to have a similar understanding of the world which gives me optimism that two people from very different cultures can share insights and perspectives, and hopefully make a larger difference in the world in our lifetimes.
As a typically open and honest person, there were a couple of times during my conversations with Mohammed where I found myself internally surprised and even potentially jumping to conclusions that were altogether based on fear. In my scared American brain, I stitched together that Mohammed is Muslim, he’s from North Africa (close to the Middle East), he’s studying Aviation, and I began having flashbacks of American news media outlets after the tragic events of September 2001. I was really caught off guard that somewhere inside of me, the media had gotten to me with all of their fear-based rants and how they systematically place people into categories that they do not belong in. For a few days, I struggled with the things I had thought, and how unfair it is to make false assumptions about someone based on just a few facts. I wondered if any of those fearful thoughts would have even popped into my head had I been interviewing a Jewish man from Israel or a Hindu man from India. Probably not, and that has allowed me the self reflection that I did not know I needed. Mohammed does not deserve to be treated in such a way, rather, he deserves happiness, freedom, and success which he will undoubtedly achieve because of his strong will and perseverance.