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From Kabul to Boston: A Dream Fulfilled Through Fulbright and Heller


Q&A with Badminton Player Tiantian Ma Get inSTEP!

Fall 2016 ISSUE I

FR AGMENTS OF HOME I spend most of my long breaks on campus. At the beginning of one such break about a year ago, after saying goodbye to all of my friends and their families, I was sad and alone in my room when something magical happened—it rained. Now, for most people, there is nothing magical about rain, but for a Malayalee, as in someone who speaks the language Malayalam and is typically from the Indian state of Kerala, it means the world. Why? Because Kerala is known for its monsoons, and that night, with the smell of wet soil, the sound of raindrops hitting the pavement, and the cool breeze that blew across my face, it was as if home came to me, even when I could not go home. We all cherish something like this, something that not just reminds us of home when we move away, but is a piece of home in itself; wherever you go, it follows. It could be the exact shade of red the leaves on the tree right by your bedroom window at home turns into mid-November. Or the way someone very dear to you smells. It could be a string of notes from a musical instrument that originated in your city. It could even be the way your pet rock from high school feels against your skin. Whatever it is, it is always there, if you look close enough—that hue, that whiff, that note, that tingly feeling—and it is what keeps you sane when you feel like you have changed too much or like you do not belong. These madeleines (if you will, after Proust), do more than just remind you of your mother’s tea; if you are anything like me, they make you feel at home even when you are not. Where people from across the globe gather to share ideas then, it is natural to come across a lot of stories about these pieces of home and how they combine to make up one big home. At Brandeis, you find these when people from diverse cultural backgrounds meet and spend major portions of their daily lives together. What you hold in your hands is a humble attempt to capture these moments. Naveed writes about how pursuing his dreams led him to the United States as a Fulbright Scholar (page 5), Betsy finds out that weird has no borders (page 9), Aru shares a story from her student days as an international student from India (page 1). Many more talk about the changes they underwent with their big move to the United States. These experiences are as varied as the people who make up our community, and I hope every reader finds something to relate to, learn about, or appreciate more in this inaugural issue of Olio.

Niranjana Warrier ‘17 Co-founder, Editor-in-Chief

Two of our co-founders who graduated in May 2016 left you this message... What brought together Olio’s founders was a shared fascination and familiarity with the transition from displacement to belonging. It often occurs as a kind of splitting-- of the self, of self-perception, of the definition of home, of how we understand the world around us and where we fit in it. We, the founders, are, to varying degrees, each: a global student, the child of an immigrant, and an avid traveler. Olio, Brandeis University’s first and only literary magazine devoted to the dissemination of our international students’ voices, would like to introduce itself as being as pluralistic and varied as the students whom it hopes to represent. This publication has been uniquely shaped by the many rich and unexpected unanticipatable responses to our original vague inquiry into identity and context. In addition to serving as a forum and record of what it is to transplant a life and gain a new perspective, we sincerely hope that the stories, pictures, and anecdotes of our global community will be read and reflected upon by those of us for whom travel, cultural shock, and acclimation are foreign. Ultimately, we hope and expect that all our readers will be both surprised and comforted by the differences and similarities that can be found among us, and how we view ourselves and others. We hope that regardless of background, country of origin, or mother tongue, you will find yourself anew between these pages. Carmen Altes ‘16 Gregory Bonacci ‘16

o·li·o (n): /ōlēō/ 1. a mixture of heterogeneous elements; hodgepodge. 2. a medley or potpourri, as of musical or literary selections; miscellany.

Niranjana Warrier ‘17 Honoré Cole ‘17 Editor-in-Chief Layout Editor

The Oliogarchs

Betsy Hochman ‘17 Copy Editor

Yucen Zhao ‘18 Layout Editor


This first issue of Olio has given our international students and scholars at Brandeis University

a chance to share their experiences and viewpoints that help define their lives here in the US and on our campus. I hope you enjoy absorbing the thoughts and ideas expressed in these first articles, and that, as a reader, you can draw connections to your own life.

In this edition we hear about personal triumph and profound changes in how students view them-

selves and the world. Our students are finding ways to continue long-held passions and discover new talents and identities through the arts. We are fortunate to have international students offer advice to one another, offering insight they fervently hope will be of help. Finally, the photos contained in this issue represent our international students’ and scholars’ discovery of places important to their lives at Brandeis and around the world.

Each member of our international community has a story to share. We welcome the next

group of contributors to continue this message of how to embrace the newness of life in the US. As you develop your own pieces to share in words and images, you will help the Brandeis community learn more about our international students and scholars. I am confident that over time these voices will become many, with each one enriching our lives through varied and engaging story-telling. So please, engage with Olio, and tell us more about you. Jodi Hanelt Director, International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO)

Staff Advisor: Gillian Boulay, ISSO Thanks to: Brandeis Office of the Provost International Students and Scholars Office Brandeis Pluralism Alliance


Cover, inside cover photos: Honoré Cole Table of Contents, back cover photos: Heratch Ekmekjian, Global Bazaar 2015, 2016

TABLE OF CONTENTS It’s Okay Not to Be a Roman in Rome Arunima Ray


Baddie in Boston: Q&A with Tiantian Ma


From Kabul to Boston: A Dream Fulfilled Through Fulbright and Heller Ahmad Naveed Noormal I Used To/Now I Sisi Xie, Abdul Rehman Home is Where Good Food is Chenyu Zhang Arts at ‘Deis Kelyn Zhang


5 6


Get inSTEP! The inSTEP Committee


Cartoons: The United States Meets India Betsy Hochman


Ask Yasmin



It is Okay Not to Be a Roman in Rome Arunima Ray

In my junior year of college, I took a course in data

analysis in which , not for the first time, I was the only international student in an otherwise American class. After the first midterm exam, the professor chose to spend some time discussing our scores. He put the histogram up on the projector screen. The most common score was around 80, there was a spread of scores between 70 and 90, and then a short gap to my score – a 98. He asked us how we would describe these data; while the scores were noticeably clustered around 80, the average was significantly higher due to the 98. He wondered how to account for the one data point that seemed so out of place. There were a number of suggestions from the class – perhaps there weren’t enough data points for a statistically significant analysis? There were. Maybe the 98 had cheated? I had not. After we had struggled for a while to come up with an answer he liked, the professor proposed the following: “Maybe this person is an alien – maybe they simply don’t belong in this population?” There are a number of ways that I could have taken that comment. Having been educated in a different country, my background was significantly different from every other student in the class, which may have given me an edge over them on the test. Maybe he meant that I was just better at the class than the other students. Maybe he meant that I had some personal experience that gave me a unique insight into the questions asked. Yet, when he said

it, I felt marked out as an outsider, an intruder into the American world. The class had been given no information as to who the 98 might belong to, but I was so certain that the moment the professor said those words everybody else knew that it was me he was talking about. Last weekend I traveled back to upstate NY to attend a wedding with my boyfriend. It turned out that the only appropriately formal attire that I could muster up was a saree. When I arrived, I mentioned to him that we could go shopping for clothes, if he was concerned about my standing out among the primarily Caucasian American folks at the wedding. He responded, “Why shouldn’t you stand out? You’re smart, beautiful, and fun – you’ll always stand out.”

"Adjusting to living in

a different culture is not at all about fitting in - but rather about accepting the fact that you are different and making something of it."



Being a foreigner in this country means that I will be noticed and remembered regardless of what I try to do about it; most people have to work hard to accomplish this. The fact is that I am different from many of the people around me, but this is a good thing. I bring a significantly different perspective and set of experiences to the table and this is an entirely valuable asset. Adjusting to living in a different culture is not at all about fitting in - but rather about accepting the fact that you are different and making something of it. When in Rome, everyone around you is busy being Roman. You do not have to be the same. Arunima Ray is an instructor in the Department of Mathematics. She moved to the United States from India for her undergraduate studies. This is a piece she wrote while she was still a student.

Baddie in Boston: Q&A with Tiantian Tiantian Ma, a native of Guangzhou, China, graduated last May with a major in business and a minor in computer science. She has been playing badminton competitively from a very young age. Her team from the Guangdong Experimental High School won the (Chinese) National High School Students’ Badminton Competition in 2010 under coach Mr. Xusheng Yang. How did you first get into badminton? My mom wanted me to pick up a sport when I was in elementary school, and initially wanted me to start tennis, but she changed her mind when she could not find a good tennis coach. When I was around ten years old, I began attending a sports school for badminton. Why did you choose Brandeis? I transferred here from a big school as a junior; I really liked the small size of classes here. I had also heard that Boston has a good badminton scene. Who is your favourite badminton player? Dan Lin, because of his consistent performance over the years. For someone his age, I think he did a great job at Rio even though he did not win the title. How did you manage to continue to practice and take part in competitions throughout your time here? I played with a private group called Boston Metro Badminton, and we met up every weekend to practice.

Tiantian (right) with Brittany Zhuang (Boston College). PHOTO: Brittany Zhuang

How is the Boston badminton scene different from the one in China? In China, badminton is very popular and there are many players at each playing level. The players here are very good even though there are fewer of them, and they tend to be more diverse. Would you like to share any of your accomplishments since joining Boston Badminton? In the Boston Open 2016, my partner and I played collegiate ladies doubles and placed third. One of the other teams I played with was the runner up in the MassBad B Team Tournament in 2016. What’s the one thing about you that few people know? I took many chemistry courses even though I did not major in chemistry. What is your favourite spot in Brandeis? Chapel’s Field. What are you most proud of? Getting into Brandeis. OLIO | BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY


From Kabul to Boston:

A Dream Fulfilled Through Fulbright and Heller Ahmad Naveed Noormal

more than 30 languages and many disparate cultures; it is a country where the social, cultural, economic, and tribal divides are as varied as the famed carpets we create. Despite its history, more than 30 years of war and conflict, Afghanistan is my country and my home and I want to help it. That was the spirit, the motivation and the dream behind my decision to continue my studies and fulfill my goals,” I recall having said at Brandeis University’s 65th Commencement. My story is slightly different from that of most brave Afghans who have made it to the US without any resources and touched the strings of success. I came from an educated family that was able to provide enough opportunity and resources for its children to learn. Despite the three decades of war, lack of access to education, oppression during the Taliban regime and security threats, my parents took the risk to educate us by any means. Like many other Afghans, my family had to leave the country in the 90’s out of fear of being crushed by the blind missiles of the civil war. While seeking refuge in Pakistan, my father, a medical doctor, had to go back to Jalalabad (an eastern province of Afghanistan) to work as a volunteer for the World Health Organization. He hoped to get a job there if a vacancy occurred. He had to take the risk of commuting to Peshawar once a month or once every two months to visit us, and because the pocket money my father was making through volunteer work was not enough, my mom (also a medical doctor) started looking for a job. Luckily, she found one as a medical professor in a private medical school. When I was only 5 years old, I started going to school in Pakistan. Being a refugee was never easy. My family had to overcome a lot of challenges-- accommodations, jobs, cultural differences, and much 3



“Afghanistan is a country divided into

more. Furthermore, the intensity of political relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan directly affected us. I remember my family and I being called “Afghan migrants” in an insulting tone. They never realized that we weren’t there to enjoy, but to seek refuge, to be ‘alive,’ until the situation in our own country improved. After finishing my first year of school, my father found an actual job and took us to Jalalabad. My brother and I-- he only a year younger than me-were enrolled in the same class. Due to different educational systems, we had to start from first grade again. I remember one day, when an audit team came to our school and asked our class a question, I was the only one to raise a hand and offer an answer. For my answer, I received a small cash prize of only 5000 AFN, equal to about $0.10, but it was good enough to keep. I realized that working hard and studying would always pay off, even if the payoff was just $0.10. After two years, my father was posted to a new job in Kabul and we had to change schools again. The challenge of studying in the capital was studying in Dari and Persian, as opposed to Pashto in Jalalabad. When you have no options left, everything seems to work. Before my father got his own house, I changed schools more than four times while we

moved around. Despite all the problems, I graduated from school with outstanding grades and received a scholarship to study Academic Law in India. I learned about the Fulbright program while I was pursuing my bachelor’s at the University of Mysore and started preparing myself for this opportunity. While at work I discussed it with my American friends and experienced colleagues. I believed that Fulbright was one of those unique programs that could help me learn more about diversity and cultural differences alongside academic experience. Additionally, I believed it could serve as a platform for me to share my experiences with different cultures around the globe.

“By joining the Heller School’s diverse community, I learned that there is always the potential to create love, bring peace and make friends irrespective of who you are and where you are.”

Ramadan, Thanksgiving and Diwali with my new friends. I’ve had a lot of great experiences here. I wish I could share them all, but I will share just two. First, I facilitated a Skype conference between Brandeis University and Kabul Education University aimed at bringing these two universities together to work on educating people on peace for sustainable stability in Afghanistan. Second, I had the chance to travel within the US. I had a lot of fun in Nevada and I saw California’s beautiful nature, Maine’s nice landscapes, and Niagara’s freezing falls. I enjoyed Virginia, Washington, D.C., New York’s love and generosity, Portland’s pleasant weather, and Texas’s lovely country people and delicious BBQ.

Fulbright gave me a lens through which I could see the world differently, made me dream bigger, and brought me to a country full of opportunities. The Heller School of Social Policy and Management raised my hopes and motivations to work hard for a better future, and bring a positive change towards peace and prosperity in my country and anywhere else in the world I am given a chance to contribute. Ahmad Naveed Noormal graduated with a master’s in conflict resolution and coexistence from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management in While visiting the U.S. in 2013 as an Afghan dip- May 2016. He came to the United States as a lomat, I learned more about the values of the U.S. Fulbright Scholar from Afghanistan. and became more interested in studying there. My dream came true when I was accepted to the Heller School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University to pursue a Masters of Co existence and Conflict Management in 2014 as a Fulbright fellow. My first experience as a student in the United States was awesome. I will never forget the warm welcome the University of Idaho offered me at its orientation program. It was the beginning of a great adventure. By joining the Heller School’s diverse community, I learned that there is always the potential to create love, bring peace and make friends irrespective of who you are and where you are. I celebrated Hanukkah, Halloween, Eid, OLIO | BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY


I used to...

Now I...

Abdul and Sisi talk about how they have changed since coming to the U.S.

Be a good speaker

Am a good listener.

Be confident in my intellect

Am confident in my hard work.

Be shy

Am more interactive.

Attend my classes to study

Enter the classroom to learn and leave it to serve.

Be a dreamer

Am a thinker.

- Abdul Rehman ‘19

Sit and listen quietly through the Am more willing to engage in a heated course whole lecture discussion! Sleep before 11:30

Always go to bed after midnight

Spend most of my time studying and watching TV shows

Frequently go to the gym and am actively involved in cultural events! - Sisi Xie ‘17



Home is W here Good Food is

Chenyu Zhang is a senior from Beijing, China. When not obsessing about food, she studies physics and mathematics. PHOTO: Chenyu Zhang


miss Chinese food already!” exclaimed my grandma. She and my mom were visiting me, and it was their very first day in the U.S. To make their trip satisfactory, I took them to a lot of Chinese restaurants; however, the dishes were all far from satisfactory, perhaps due to limitations on ingredients. Although the trip to California was filled with beautiful scenery and friendly people, the food problem prevented the experience from being perfect. I felt sorry that I was not able to give my mom and grandmother a good culinary experience. That is, until we visited my aunt’s home in New York. My aunt is married to a non-religious Jewish man, and the morning after we arrived, they made us a Jewish breakfast. I was worried that my grandma wouldn’t even eat the salmon, but much to my surprise, she enjoyed the meal a lot! That same afternoon we visited a local seafood restaurant, and my family was very happy with the meal. That was when I realized that the best food in an area is what the local people eat. For memorable food experiences, we should have tried more American restaurants. When we returned to Boston, that was exactly what we did—we went to the Cheesecake Factory, Atlantic Fish Co., and a bunch of other restaurants that specialized in American cuisine. Each time we had a much better time than when we struggled with non-authentic Chinese food.



Arts at ‘Deis This column features international students who have been active participants in the arts at Brandeis. In this issue, Kelyn Zhang ‘19 talks about her involvement with the Brandeis Department of Theater Arts’ production, “Shoes On, Shoes Off” in Spring 2016. Being part of the dance Shoes On, Shoes Off expanded my range of experience and helped me to grow in unexpected ways. I was able to work with wonderful and creative people, enjoy the process of creating a show, as well as explore who I am. Two aspects of the experience, in particular, left deep impressions on me.

her words and her magical way of seeing people. She hoped people could be themselves, and could continue to develop their own special qualities. It was very inspiring and encouraging. What I most enjoyed about the dance was how everybody was able to contribute to it. Susan was creative, encouraging, generous and passionate. With her, we didn’t have to worry about running out of ideas or speaking our minds. In one rehearsal, I asked about my character’s state of mind in an act, and Susan took her time to answer my questions. Later that day, she sent me an email expressing her appreciation for my thoughts and ideas. I was really moved by her actions, and her taking the time to tell me how she felt. This email not only acknowledged me as part of the dance, but also encouraged me as a performer and a thinker.

I was touched when Susan (Susan Dibble, Director and Choreographer) told everyone that the characters in the show were created for us. Each character, she said, was based on her first impressions of each of us. She hoped that we could bring those qualities that she saw in each person into the characters. Mine was that of a floating, whispering woman. I was surprised by Susan’s perceptiveness when she told me that; I didn’t expect her to notice the rather introverted side of me. I was even more surprised when she described me as mysterious instead of shy. I really appreciated Everyone on the team always shared with one another what they thought could be done to improve the dance. We worked together to make the piece better. I really enjoyed the dance because it was built on our collaboration, understanding and communication, and because we all learned and grew throughout the process.

Kelyn Zhang (far left) hails from Suzhou, China and is a sophomore planning to major in antropology and HSSP, and minor in art istory. PHOTO: Mike Lovett 7


Brandeis students have the opportunity to engage in a wide range of exciting events on campus, so much so that it can be hard to choose how best to get involved. inSTEP (International Student Experience Project) is a collaboration among campus departments across Brandeis to help international students pursue a well-rounded Brandeis experience. inSTEP seeks to inform international students about key events that address their needs and interests and support services to help make their experience at Brandeis a rich and fulfilling one. The inSTEP kickoff event was held on September 13, 2016. Jamele Adams, Dean of Student Affairs, beganthe gathering with an enthusiastic introduction. He stressed the importance of community and inclusiveness at Brandeis, the important ways that international students contribute to Brandeis, and how Brandeis works to support them. Two student guest speakers, Maitreya “Moi” Das and Yujie Jiang, shared their experience as Brandeis students and linked their experiences to the mission of inSTEP. Moi Das, a master’s degree candidate in Molecular and Cell Biology at Brandeis, has been here for almost two years. He shared with the group about his interaction with the ISSO during his delayed visa application process. Moi said that the ISSO response was “highly comforting,” and that he felt included and part of the international community at Brandeis before he even arrived. Students from abroad often find that college in the United States is an entirely new experience and need time to familiarize themselves with the way classes run at Brandeis. Luckily, as Moi dove into his studies, he found that Brandeis classmates, faculty and staff were helpful in his process of adapting to a new climate and a new education system. He feels a part of the international student community at Brandeis, and he is very

happy to be a resource to incoming students who have questions about settling in at Brandeis. Yujie, now a senior, started Brandeis as a Gateway Scholar in the summer of 2013. During her remarks, she emphasized how all the different offices, also members of inSTEP, had supported her Brandeis journey. Academic Services, the ISSO, English Language Programs, Undergraduate Roosevelt Fellows, and the Hiatt Center, in particular, were all places she sought help for classwork and to gain a better understanding of class schedules, study strategies, and her job search. inSTEP meets several times each semester to identify activities and events that would be particularly helpful to international students here at Brandeis. Offices currently on the inSTEP committee include: Department of Community Living Intercultural Center ISSO English Language Programs Academic Services Brandeis Counseling Center Graduate Student Affairs Office of Community Service Hiatt Career Center The Heller School for Social Policy and Management Library & Technology Services (LTS) Office of Dean of Arts and Sciences Office of Student Activities Rape Crisis Center inSTEP looks forward to welcoming its newest member, Jingwen Yan, the International Student Advisor for Community Integration, who begins working at Brandeis in both the ISSO and ELP in December. We look forward to Jingwen bringing new energy and perspective to a group that is really just getting started. The inSTEP Committee



The United States meets India

The cartoons displayed here were inspired by the cross-cultural relationships I’ve had the privilege of sharing at Brandeis. - Betsy

Betsy Hochman is a senior environmental studies major from Landsdale, Pennsylvania. She is Olio’s resident cartoonist.





Introducing an advice column to help you navigate life in the U.S. as an international student! Send your questions to; Yasmin might pick your question to answer in the next issue!

Dear International Students, Giddy up, it’s almost winter!! At Brandeis, we take the quote “winter is coming” very seriously- so be prepared. Walking up Rabb steps could become even MORE challenging (who would have thought that was even possible?!), so make sure you got your winter boots and coats ready. Remember when gearing up for winter that Black Friday, which comes right after Thanksgiving, is a day with major sales. So if you’re trying to save some monies, that’s a day you should be marking on your calendars (Don’t worry if you missed it this year, it’s an annual thing). Winter break is right around the corner, and if you’re not going home, you can always enjoy the time off school by having dinner with friends or by visiting other nearby towns, parks, or cities (An insider tip for you- there are brochures in the SCC with great ideas for trips- check them out!) And last but not least, always remember that the rest of Brandeis community is your family and we are here to help you with any questions you may have. In fact, some international students already volunteered their tips to help you out! Here are some of the tips they had for you: “If you read your textbooks before a class, try to take notes of your readings and jot down the pages from where you took them. While studying for a midterm you are going to love yourself for having done so” - Guille Caballero ‘20

“Go to office hours. Get to know your professors and make sure they know you. This will be very helpful later when you need a recommendation letter and/or when they need a student as their TA or RA etc.” - Roza Azene ‘17

“Hang around freshman doors close to move out day/ check all the stuff that gets left behind. You will find serious gems/a lot of free stuff/cheap deals. P.S. Invest in good boots and a solid winter coat. Sweaters do not suffice. Trust me.” - Munis Safajou ‘16

“Don’t procrastinate. Try to do all your academic work first before anything so you can really enjoy your time without being worried about your homework.” - Ghazal Moussavi ‘20

Yasmin Bedair is a sophomore from Egypt who majors in HSSP and education studies.





Brandeis' premier magazine for international students.


Brandeis' premier magazine for international students.