For this interview, I spoke with Imen Bouhestine, an international student from Tunisia.
Which part of Tunisia are you from? What is it like?
I am originally from the south in Djerba, but I live in the north, the capital exactly. And it is different in Tunisia. So when someone asks you where you’re from, you tell them where your ancestors were from, not where you live. I’ve only been to the South twice which is a shame because it is very beautiful. I remember when I went there once as a kid, we went swimming. And the next day, I could not walk in the streets because it is so hot! I have lived my whole life in the capital, Tunis.
How did you decide to come study in the US, and how long will you be here?
I am part of an exchange program, called the Thomas Jefferson Exchange Program. I’ve always wanted to be a diplomat. Back home, I studied management and I specialized in finance. So studying international relations was very appealing to me, and I had the opportunity to do so with this program. I was in the US in 2014, and I spent two weeks in Iowa. I was part of a writing program which didn’t really let me explore the American culture. I saw this program as an opportunity to explore more of the culture.
Have you experienced any culture shock? To what degree?
I don’t think I did… It is surprising because before coming here we had the pre-departure orientation and they really stressed culture shock and its problems. Not yet, and I hope I won’t!
Have you been able to communicate with friends and family back home?
Yes, definitely! The first day though was very painful. I came here on a Sunday afternoon, and I went to the library. But they were closed and I didn’t have access to the wifi, and I had to go through several trials to get my roommate to connect a hotspot to my phone. That way I could speak to my family and let them know I’m alive. I talk with them often, every day. When I wake up, when I have free time, but not at night because there is a five-hour time difference. My mom almost cried the last time I talked to her. A friend of hers was at our house, and she said how much she missed me, and my mom started crying. There are some times when video chatting is great but it is awful because you see them but they are far away.
What is your view on Americans so far? Has it changed since coming here?
So, before I ever came, I had this one thought that probably I would get certain looks because I’m Muslim and I wear a hijab. So yeah, I was concerned how Americans would perceive me because of what goes on in the world. Mainstream media portrays a bad image of Muslims and it’s very sad because they take what a group does and make it generalized for what we are. Good people and bad people exist everywhere. So I certainly knew I would meet some nice people. So far, I haven’t met anyone who was rude.
What is the most fun thing you’ve experienced so far in the U.S.?
I went to Philadelphia. I saw the liberty bell and the crack in it. It was very exciting. I went to Gettysburg. I love Abraham Lincoln because he is on my VISA and a very great guy. And I like the movie where he is a Vampire hunter. I was very excited to see Gettysburg and where Lincoln gave his address after the battle there. I took so many pictures!
What are some hobbies/things you enjoy doing?
I love writing. I write for a magazine back home called Creativeness. It sounds weird but it is meant that way in Arabic. It is the fun of mixing an English and an Arabic word. I like reading, but sadly I don’t have the time now to read very much. The last book I read was John Green’s Looking for Alaska. It’s about these people who went to school. They lived on campus, and it made me excited to live on campus here in the U.S. In Tunisia, I live at home, so this experience is different. Recently video chatting became a hobby! And I like going to the Wellness Center to play Sports with my friends. I also enjoy helping with community service. It was a requirement for my program here, but I still do it because I like it.
What do you think of culture here, how people dress, speak, sports?
I was definitely excited to see American football and the marching band. We have marching bands in Tunisia but they only perform in parades. And we don’t have them during sports. I was excited to see my first marching band in a sports event. It’s also funny how football back home is soccer. I don’t really understand how football works here, but I enjoy watching it. I went to one game only. I missed the homecoming game because of community service hours, and I was upset. But I saw it on social media. I also participated in several of the homecoming events, which we do not have in Tunisia, and it was fun. I walked in the parade with the study abroad club, and they had a very nice banner. I liked the work they put into it.
Do you like any music from America?
Yes, I do. I don’t have specific styles that I listen to, but if I like a song, I will listen to it. I like Imagine Dragons. I love them, especially their very recent album. I enjoy country because I enjoy the dancing rhythm to it. I really like “Country Roads.” I heard it during the Emerging Leaders service and I liked it. It gives me a feeling of belonging here.
Is Shepherdstown, West Virginia, a place you would recommend to your friends?
Definitely yes. It was very interesting because I didn’t choose to live here. The way it works, I apply to the program, and the program matches students to the universities, and I matched with Shepherd. I googled Shepherd, and the first thing that came up was, “Shepherdstown, the most haunted town in the U.S.” I was concerned at first even though I don’t really believe in ghosts. I definitely like being here. It is very calm, and the people are very nice. I have only met nice people. Some people would say that people from West Virginia are conservative and don’t accept different people. Some of my friends said that, but I have only had good experiences so far, and I would definitely recommend it to my friends!