Right from the very beginning of my academic career, I knew I wanted to study abroad. I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to meet exciting new people, make new international friends, and feel a sense of belonging all over the world. During my second year as an electrical engineering student at American University of Sharjah (AUS), I started working with the AUS International Exchange Office (IXO) on my application to study abroad through the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP) network in Fall 2010.
San Diego State University was my first-choice destination because of the location, climate and especially the lifestyle opportunities. I was eager to learn how to surf! Back then, AUS was a very new member of the ISEP network—the only member from the Middle Eastern Gulf countries—a remarkable achievement for the office. When I got in, I considered myself very fortunate to achieve placement at this highly competitive destination. And I left for my study abroad adventure in early January 2011, with no idea of the extent to which this experience was about to change my entire life.
Initially, I ran into some daunting challenges. Not surprisingly, I had some concerns about studying in the US given my background as an Iraqi Muslim student named Osama, and after doing some research; I came away with the impression that California was quite open-minded and receptive toward diversity. Upon arrival at San Diego State University, I was placed into a small dorm room with three rowdy Australian friends who were keen to take advantage of the San Diego party scene. Dismayed and culture-shocked, I began to make noises to my IXO advisor that I was thinking about coming back home, only 48 hours after arriving in California! There was a flurry of urgent phone and email conversations began between me, my parents, and the international offices of AUS and San Diego State University. After a few tense days had passed, the International Student Center at San Diego State University was able to locate a single dorm room for me, which I gratefully moved into.
At this point, my experience abroad improved considerably. I made the most of my time abroad —I travelled extensively, visiting Washington DC, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Hawaii, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. I learned how to surf like a pro and made close friends from around the world that I continue to stay in touch with. Upon my return, I immediately applied to work for IXO as a student advisor full-time during the summer and at the same time became an ISEP Ambassador.
I worked for IXO all through my junior and senior years at AUS. After I completed my internship and all other graduation requirements at the end of Summer 2012, I continued working as a full-time student advisor throughout the Fall 2012 semester, covering for a team member who was on maternity leave.
“Osama’s impending graduation in January 2013, coupled with his considerable experience with study abroad, as an ISEP exchange student, ISEP Ambassador and as an IXO student advisor made him the perfect candidate to take on the staff position of Advisor, International Exchange Programs, when it became available in mid-December 2012,” said Dr. Linda Angell, Director of the Office of International Exchange at AUS. “He is well on his way to an amazing career in international education, and could potentially make a huge contribution especially in terms of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics programs.”
Osama Jasim Mafraji is the international exchange program advisor as well as an alumnus of the American University of Sharjah.
For more information about American University of Sharjah, please visit www.aus.edu