The University of Iowa

Student Reflections on Race and Ethnicity from Pondicherry, India

April 1st, 2015

UI Study Abroad Diversity Ambassador Scholar Azzah Nasraddin is a sophomore majoring in psychology and social work with a minor in global health and Arabic. Nasraddin spent the 2014-15 winter break on the India Winterim Program in Pondicherry, India, where she had the opportunity to get hands-on experience at health clinics and hospitals, supporting village development and addressing social problems such as poverty and illiteracy for populations in need. In this letter, she reflects on her identity as a black Muslim American woman while abroad – and how her experiences broke down her stereotypes and prejudices.

Dear Prospective Student,

During her time abroad, Nasraddin helped to serve populations in need, from children to the elderly.

My name is Azzah Nasraddin and I am a sophomore majoring in psychology and social work. I was blessed with the opportunity to travel abroad Pondicherry, India for the 2014-2015 India Winterim. I was born in Khartoum, Sudan and came with my family to Iowa City, Iowa when I was four years old. My mother always tells me that I was born adventurous. I would open the door of my grandmother’s house in our sleepy village in Sudan and explore at the tender age of two. It is no wonder then that I have always dreamed of seeing the world and studying abroad.

The two places that I have visited extensively have been Sudan and America. As a hyphenated American I have always felt like I have two homes that I don’t belong in. In the United States, I am always asked where I’m really from. I was raised here so I always found the question odd. In America I sometimes feel too Sudanese, in Sudan I am too American—that I am from neither here nor there. I had hoped by travelling to India that I learn more about my identity. However, the decision to travel was not an easy one by far. I was extremely nervous about leaving my friends and my family. Going to India would be the first time I travelled anywhere without my best friends or my family. I would be travelling without my touch stones.

"India broke down stereotypes and prejudices I had and was life changing in more ways than I will be able to convey in this statement."

As a Black Muslim woman, I was very worried about the way I would be treated abroad. I heard of rampant cases of Islam-phobia and anti-blackness everywhere and prepared myself for the worst. Regardless of all my worries, pessimistic thoughts, and negative energy, my 2014-2015 trip to Pondicherry, India broke down stereotypes and prejudices I had and was life changing in more ways than I will be able to convey in this statement.  

People in Pondicherry would always ask me where I am from, and when I said “America”, they would ask where I was really from. I would tell them that I was born in Sudan but was raised in America. “Oh, you’re Sudanese-American?” They would say. “Yeah, I guess” I would respond. People there were really comfortable with and interested in the fact that I was a hyphenated American. They would ask me what I thought was different about Sudan, America, and India. I had three places to compare. What always felt like a clutch in the States, balancing two cultures, became a wonderful subsidy in India.

I was continuously touched by level of humanity and hospitality I received there. I had the opportunity to visit the predominately Muslim area of town with my professor every morning. The Muslim quarters and the hospitality that the Tamilian’s demonstrated reminded me so much of my birth place. Throughout the trip I would get feelings of nostalgia and déjà vu so strong that my heart would ache. I did not realize that I would miss Sudan so much or that I would learn to appreciate my Sudanese-ness so much more because of this trip.

When I talked about home to those I met there however, I realized that I would be talking about Iowa and my heart would ache for campus and lunch breaks and movie nights with my friends. I realized one day while having a conversation with a shopkeeper in Pondicherry that Iowa is my home. America is my home. America is a melting pot with people from places all over the world. I am a hyphenated American and I am not floating through a gray area anymore. I have two homes and that’s okay. I belong anywhere and everywhere and that’s okay.

India was a first for me in so many ways. It was the first time I travelled “alone” in a sense. It was the first time I opened up to people I did not necessarily know. It was the first time I was on a mostly vegetarian diet. It was the first time I made a really great friend in 3 weeks—a friend that I will have for a lifetime. It was the first time I truly tried to reflect on my identity and answer the question, “what does it mean to be American?” It was my first time in a long time feeling free and hopeful. I felt like the shackles holding me back from the goals I had for myself were released. This trip helped me understand the potential in the future and the potential for tomorrow. If the traveler bug was in me before the trip, it has run rampant now. This trip has taught me that I have values and roots in two different cultures and has made me appreciate myself and my identity so much more. India has made me proud to be me.

I wish you all the best in your travels.


Azzah Nasraddin

Learn more about the Diversity Ambassador Scholarship for Study Abroad