Student Profile: Nadeen Abujaber: From Middle East to Middle West

Photo by Ben Shapiro As she works on her honors thesis about the gender roles of Middle Eastern college students, senior Nadeen Abujaber brings firsthand knowledge. She came to Evanston from Jordan, arriving just two weeks after 9/11.

Being in the United States, says this human development and social policy major, reinforces her identity as a Jordanian. "I feel like I'm more Arab here," she says. "I'm always aware that I represent my culture and my family." To her that means showing loyalty, hospitality and generosity.

As a result of going to a different country for college, Abujaber feels she understands herself better too. "When you go someplace new for college, you are better able to find out who you are," she explains. Although coming to America was an adjustment that initially sparked intense homesickness, she values her growth. Flashing a bright smile, she says, "It gives you great confidence to know you have adapted to another culture."

The same optimism and confidence that brought Abujaber halfway around the world to college are apparent in her desire to become a psychiatrist in a country where psychological counseling is not widely accepted. In Jordan, she says, intimate problems tend to stay within the family.

However, she was inspired to enter psychiatry by a Jordanian therapist, and she intends to head for medical school after working for a year in health care. Eventually, she plans to return to Jordan. "I want to contribute to the movement to establish more mental health clinics," she says. A self-described "people person," she sees being a doctor as the best way to help people.

At Northwestern, Abujaber has appreciated the personal approach of the School of Education and Social Policy, which she sees as friendly and nurturing - but challenging too. As an international student, she says that "finding the familiar" is important to her. She transferred from Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences her sophomore year because of SESP's clinical orientation, which balances out her more theoretical premed coursework.

A high point for Abujaber was her practicum during junior year, when she worked at University of Chicago Children's Hospital on screening for a bulimia project. This experience led to her decision to focus on families. "I learned that family has a big impact on who people become," she explains.
Soon after arriving on campus, Abujaber saw the need for education about the Arab world. "The Middle East is more advanced than people perceive it to be," she says. "I want to open people's minds to the fact that this [the U.S.] is not the only country that changes."

To this end, she serves as president of the Middle Eastern Student Association, which raises cultural awareness on campus, in addition to her other activities that include producing a dance show and volunteering at Evanston Hospital.

"The more you can understand, the more you can accept," she says, stressing the need for people to listen and learn from each other. "We should respect differences but see similarities."

By Marilyn Sherman
By Marilyn Sherman