A World Apart: Why Asmaa Abdullah Came Home to Temple University
By: Nick Santangelo
Temple University’s College of Liberal Arts (CLA) strives to expose all students to new experiences and to broaden their worldviews. Whether they’re studying in a North Philly classroom, at one of our satellite campuses or studying abroad, CLA students are constantly gaining new cultural perspectives.
Because the liberal arts are so broad and allow for so many cross-disciplinary studies, that’s true no matter what a student’s background is and where her interests lie. Take senior Asmaa Abdullah, for instance. A psychology major who’s also pursuing certificates in Spanish and sign language, Abdullah was born in Bucks County, Pa. For the 15 years prior to enrolling at Temple, however, she lived in Saudi Arabia.
“It's very different because Saudi Arabia is a very conservative country,” explains Abdullah. “It's also based in a religious doctrine. The country itself and the government itself is based on religion, so it's very different from living over here where it's acceptable to be anything, whoever you want to be.”
As she grew up, however, Abdullah realized that Saudi Arabia has a much richer cultural mix than most people realize. That mixture helped shape her education, pushing her toward studying psychology and Spanish and driving her desire to visit Spain. And even though she wants to stay in the U.S. for the foreseeable future, Abdullah isn’t committing to living the entire rest of her life in her country of birth.
Speaking of committing, why would someone with such worldly experience and plenty of options choose Temple? Abdullah was drawn back to the area in part because her family would come to Philadelphia every other summer to explore the city and surrounding suburbs and visit friends and family. She’s also a legacy student, as her father is a Temple grad. And she knew she’d have a wealth of opportunities here.
“If I could do it all over again, I would still choose Temple,” says Abdullah.
While at Temple, Abdullah has gotten involved with a number of cultural clubs and groups. She’s joined the Temple Muslim Student Association and an organization called Temple Operation Smile, which raises funds for corrective surgeries for children with cleft lips. Through volunteering with Temple Operation Smile, Abdullah has helped a number of children who otherwise couldn’t have afforded surgeries to get them done.
“The thing about the college experience that I think is the most important to be honest is just trying to make the best out of it,” she says. “And a lot of people think of a very different idea than what I say when they hear ‘college experience.’ But in terms of what I mean, it's taking advantage of all of the opportunities that come your way or that you possibly can.”
Doing so has helped Abdullah academically by influencing who she is as a person. But while her involvement in various campus activities has helped her grow as an academic since she reached North Philly, it was her school experiences in Saudi Arabia that originally pushed her to get involved in psychology.
“I would sit at the back of the bus every time going back home, and the other students would be surrounded around me, and we would talk about our problems and that kind of stuff,” she recalls. “Mainly it was them talking to me. So that was initially what made me go into psychology.
“Later on, I noticed that another part of the reason was that I'm really interested in how languages and their cultures build into people's perspectives, and that's a lot of what I'm doing right now, and it's a lot of what I'm planning to do after I graduate from Temple.”
Her post-graduation plans right now sound like they’ll involve studying psycho-linguistics at graduate school, but Abdullah hasn’t looked too closely at schools or programs just yet. She’s focused on her undergrad studies for now, which include those Spanish and sign language certificates. The hope is that by exposing herself to even more cultures through those programs, she’ll be better prepared for whatever graduate program she ultimately ends up in.
It’s just one more layer of perspectives to add to the many Abdullah has already built between her studies and a life lived between two countries. All the different cultures she’s absorbed have contributed to putting Abdullah on her current path. The final destination may not be set in stone yet, but when the right opportunity comes along, there’s no doubt Abdullah will reach for it.