MS NEWS GUEST COLUMN: The intricate dance between tradition and transition

Multicultural Student Newsletter

Courtesy of Hayam Alnakhli.

By: Dr. Hayam Alnakhli–Edwards

Central Michigan University Assistant Professor of Professional Sales and Marketing 

As Arab American Heritage Month dawns upon us, I'm reminded of the intricate dance between tradition and transition that has defined my journey. This month isn't just a celebration; it's an invitation to delve into the layers of cultural fusion and personal evolution that shape our identities. It's a moment of sharing stories that weave the rich tapestry of Arab cultures into the American narrative. As a Saudi student turned faculty member at Central Michigan University, I find myself at the intersection of two worlds, each offering unique perspectives and opportunities for growth.

Growing up in Saudi Arabia, I was immersed in a culture rich with tradition and familial ties. It was like being cocooned in a tapestry woven with the threads of tradition and the warmth of familial bonds, yet burdened by patriarchal constraints and some rigid societal expectations, especially for women. As a woman in this environment, I faced challenges navigating the strict confines of my upbringing and societal norms such as the prohibition on women driving until 2017. However, it was within these constraints that I discovered resilience and a determination to forge my own path.

Stepping onto American soil marked a pivotal moment in my life—a journey of self-discovery and embracing the unexpected. As a student in the United States, I found myself at the crossroads of two worlds, each presenting distinctive viewpoints and avenues for discovery. The transition wasn't without its hurdles; language barriers, cultural nuances, and academic demands that tested my resolve. Yet, amidst the hustle and bustle of my PhD journey, I discover strengths and capabilities within myself that I never knew existed. But I also found myself questioning my own identity and purpose. Further, forming friendships with individuals from diverse backgrounds allowed me to learn from their experiences while sharing my own, ultimately leading to a deeper understanding of myself and others.

Fueled by a newfound purpose, I decided to remain in America, determined to make a difference in the lives of others in both Saudi Arabia and the United States. Now, as a faculty member at Central Michigan University, I am privileged to pay forward the support and guidance I received. However, my journey didn't conclude with professional growth; it extended to my personal life as well.

Marrying a loving American man and raising our children added another layer to my cultural tapestry. This union profoundly influenced me, bridging cultures, challenging preconceptions, and enriching our collective experience. 

Being a Saudi woman in America has meant straddling multiple identities—wife, mother, educator—all while navigating the complexities of cultural integration. Yet, it's precisely within this intersectionality that I've found strength and resilience. My experiences as a woman in Saudi Arabia have shaped my perspective, fostering empathy and a commitment to empowering others, particularly women, to find their voice and agency.

Arab American Heritage Month serves as a reminder that diversity is not only something to be celebrated but also embraced and nurtured. It is a time to honor the contributions of Arab Americans to the mosaic of American society and to reflect on the journey of individuals like myself– women who defy stereotypes, challenge norms, and embrace the complexity of their identities– who have found a home away from home.

In the spirit of unity and inclusivity, let us continue to build bridges of understanding, dismantle barriers, and champion the diversity that enriches our communities. Together, we can create a world where every voice is valued, every culture is respected, and every individual is empowered to thrive. I hope this part of my story serves as a testament to the power of following one's calling, finding love in unexpected places, and making a lasting impact on the world.