Meet Saba

27 Oct


Wanting to introduce basic information about the culture and educational institutions of foreign countries and regions, there was one country that Chicago College Life was able to reach through one student. As a group, we were curious to learn about the experiences of other international students compared to the experience of local students. There are advantages and disadvantages for international students who study in Chicago. Meeting with Saba Firdausi who is a third-year international student at UIC helped us attain some basic information on her cultural background and her experience that we want to share with our peer students.

Chicago College Life: Where are you from?

Saba Firdausi: Pakistan.

CCL:  We were told that you used to wear the Hijab which means you are Muslim; is this correct?

SF: Yes, I am a Muslim.

CCL: Saba, what major are you studying?

SF: Pre-Med

CCL: How do you find your studying different from what you were used to in Pakistan?

SF: Here, college is hard. Over there, if you go into medical, it’s a lot of memorization and here some of the stuff is just technical.

CCL: How else is it different in relation to the treatment of the professors to individual students?

SF: The teachers here don’t help each student individually unless we go to their office, other than that if we asked them after class, they would be like “go to Black Board”.

CCL: Have you made any friends that are outside of your nationality or background?

SF: Yes, lots and lots of American friends; the majority of them are white.

CCL: Did you find it hard to “fit in” and get along with people at your community and at UIC?

SF: I used to wear the hijab, and everybody used to stare at me at school and even on the subway, people used to stare at me the whole time. I didn’t take it off because I was in school, I didn’t care because you have the professor for only one semester.  I mainly took it off because I couldn’t get a job; because my area is mostly American people and it’s really discriminating here.

CCL: You couldn’t get a job because you were wearing a hijab?

Saba before removing the hijab

SF: Yes. I went to apply for a job at Meijers; the manager was really discriminating. I went there for an interview, but she didn’t take me; three days later I took off the hijab and went again, and she was like “come back on Monday”. She didn’t recognize me obviously.

CCL: In school, how did you feel you were discriminated against?

SF: There was this French professor of mine that was really mean to me, but I got an A in that class. However; I have a friend who I took a laboratory class with and she was wearing a full burka, and she was paired with a guy. She explained to the professor that she couldn’t work with a guy, and asked if she could be paired with me instead, but he was mean and did not accept her request. This is enough proof that I am being discriminated against because the teacher did not respond to the request and did not understand our background.

CCL: what about your classmates, how were they treating you?

SF: In class, we were going over what we did this summer, so told them about how this past summer I went back to Pakistan. Then they started asking me if I saw any bombings and stuff in front of the whole class. They were seriously asking in a way, but I still didn’t take it seriously and took it as a joke because they were my friends. I don’t really care, because I joke with them the same way and make jokes about them being blonde. In my major, most of the people are international students, and so everyone has a similar situation as mine, and I think that just about every culture has its own stereotypes. You know there is this one name they call the South Asian girls and it is really common at UIC if you don’t know it, it is called “Desi girls”. People think that when they are calling us by that name they are insulting us, but they are actually not. If you look it up the name actually means that we are South Asian girls, and that is what it really means. There is an Indian song about this name you can look it up on Youtube, it talks about how Indian girls are pretty and special and how there is no one like us.

CCL: If you don’t already know there are many clubs and many Muslim organizations at UIC that you can relate to that are based are your personal interests and your background; have you joined any?

SF: Yes; I have joined the MSA (Muslim Student Association), but I don’t like it because it discriminates against American people, like how American people discriminate against us when they’re together. I used to go to their meetings, and all they do is gossip about Americans. I also used to go to these Spanish and chess clubs and was very uncomfortable and not used to it in the beginning, but once I went two or three times, I became very comfortable. I also went to ESL (English Second Language) clubs in order to learn English better and that’s how I started meeting people and I became more comfortable making friends. From there I started joining more and more organizations.

CCL: Now that you have become comfortable in joining clubs and organizations, do you consider creating your own club that is neutral and does not discriminate in order to teach people about your culture?

SF: Yes; actually, this past week I told my friends to come over, so they got dressed and everything.

Saba on left

CCL: Let’s just forget about all the discrimination part and move to the positive side of being an international student; there must be a purpose for coming here and in order to achieve your goals. Every international student has the same difficult process they go through at the beginning as you have mentioned, but we all know that there is a happy ending. Every story has a happy ending, that’s why we are patient right?

SF: Yes! Definitely! I came here to finish my degree. Most of the girls that come here from Pakistan go into the medical major and pharmacy because those are the best in Pakistan. I will be working right away when I get home because I will have my degree from here.

CCL: So you are setting your goals to helping your own country?

SF: I mean; if I am going to get my degree, who else would I want to help?  I am not saying that I am a saint, but I want to really help the people that need help over there since I will be working any ways. Plus, I am setting my goals for my future in Pakistan because I will be married there. CCL: What are other advantages that you are gaining here at this moment that will help you in the future?

SF: You already know that there are scholarships that are offered only for international students, so I take advantage of those. There is also one thing that I feel good about in school that makes it less trouble for me. I have English as my second language, and when I am assigned a paper to write, I can write it ahead of time and give it to my professors, and get them back with all the edits. That way I get  better grades; and I don’t use this as an excuse with my professors, but because they really are true reasons and most of the professors understand that and they help me out.

CCL: That is great, and it is great to hear about your experience at the school. Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

SD: Actually, as we have discussed earlier, we all have similar experiences at the beginning, but then everything gets better at the end.

It is definitely true that most international students go through the same experience of being discriminated against, but things get better by time; one just has to continue trying. And for those who are local students, it is interesting to learn about other cultures and become tolerant of the backgrounds of your peer international students.



One Response to “Meet Saba”


  1. Let Your Spirit Guide You « Chicago College Life - November 12, 2010

    […] students to take part in. For Example: Student Activism: The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, Meet Saba, That’s Pretty Good Stuff , Want to get involved? A Student Shares Her Experiences.   […]

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