ALMA — There was a palpable excitement in the air at the first meeting of the revived Muslim Student Organization at Alma College, which took place in February.
Imam Sohail Chaudhry of the Islamic Center of East Lansing came together with visiting assistant professor Khansaa Canning and club president Mariem Hamdi to talk about Muslim culture and faith throughout the world. A crowd of nearly 50 students, staff and faculty came to the basement of Dunning Memorial Chapel to hear the three speakers and celebrate the growing diversity of the Alma College community.
But if you’re impressed by that turnout, Hamdi said, just wait and see what’s in store.
“This is a great school because of the attitudes of people who go here,” Hamdi said. “I’m thousands of miles away from my real home, but I feel like I am at home anyway. People want to learn from you here, and teach you what they know.”
Hamdi, a sophomore, is a native of Tunisia, the northernmost country in Africa. Growing up, Hamdi said, she felt very cognizant of the world around her. Her father Riadh’s position in the Tunisian military meant that she moved around the country frequently, and watching Hollywood films gave Hamdi a strong love of American culture.
But the Tunisian Revolution of 2010 and the subsequent Arab Spring movement gave a new seriousness to her sense of place in the world.
“It was very frightening, and I had a lot of questions,” Hamdi said. “Ultimately, I realized, I don’t want to work behind a desk at a 9-to-5 job. I wanted to understand things better, and I wanted to use that knowledge to help others.”
When it was time to choose her path in higher education, Hamdi sought an American college or university that could help with her career goal of becoming an international diplomat. She decided on Alma College in large part for its Model United Nations program, which carries a sterling reputation, and has been called a “superpower” by The Huffington Post.
Since arriving in the United States on Aug. 3, 2020 — she says she “will never forget” the date — Hamdi has thrived, in large part thanks to Model UN and its faculty advisor, Derick “Sandy” Hulme, who is the Arthur L. Russell Professor of Political Science at Alma College.
“Model UN is the most formative experience I have ever had. Dr. Hulme is amazing,” Hamdi said. “We’re planning a trip this year to go to New York City compete in the 2022 National Model UN New York Conference, and that will be my dream come true. I can’t wait.
“It’s a demanding program and you work very hard in Model UN, but the rewards are worth it. It’s a group of people who are all very smart and driven to succeed. It makes you want to do your best.”
In addition to her time spent in Model UN and working with the Muslim Student Association, among other extracurricular activities, Hamdi also works part-time in the college admissions office. In admissions, Hamdi specifically works to recruit international students to Alma College, oftentimes simply by telling her own story of success.
“I’m trying to get more students from North Africa to come here, and I think they will,” Hamdi said. “You get the kind of education here that you can only get at the most expensive, exclusive colleges and universities where I come from, and everyone feels like they belong.”