Interview with My Muslim Friend, Nour BenHmieida ’19
Written by Sara Garfinkle
I interviewed Nour BenHmieida, a Muslim student and beloved friend. We talked about her journey to Hillsdale, her rich educational experience, her transformative leadership of the International Club, and her spiritual growth. Nour graduated in December 2019 with a B.S. in biochemistry.
1. Where were you born? When did you come to America and why?
I was born in Tripoli, the capital of Libya, and we moved to the States in 2008 when I was about 11. My parents came here to pursue graduate school. My father got a Ph.D in management, and my mother got a master’s in criminal justice. While we were here, Libya went through a lot of political instability, so we are seeking permanent residency in the States.
2. How did you hear about Hillsdale? Why did you choose it?
I went to a classical school called Vanguard, and we had many Hillsdale alumni teaching there. I chose Hillsdale because I liked how small the school was and how each student got one-on-one attention with their professors. I was originally planning to go to medical school, and I was looking for a place where I can gain mentors to guide me through the process. I also appreciated how invested the professors were in their students’ success. Their mentorship and guidance does not stop after we graduate either.
3. Did you have any worries or hesitations coming to Hillsdale?
Most definitely! I knew I was going to be one of the only Muslims here, and that was intimidating. I didn’t know how students and faculty would treat me, and I’m happy to say that everyone has been kind throughout my time here at Hillsdale. I also didn’t visit Hillsdale or Michigan prior to moving here, so that was definitely another worry I had.
4. How has being a religious/cultural minority been a challenge? How has it been a learning and growing experience?
It definitely felt lonely when I first moved out here, and to be honest it still does. Even though everyone is nice, I really do miss being a part of a Muslim community where I get to practice my faith with others. With every challenge there’s an opportunity to grow, though, and this challenge definitely taught me a lot. I got the opportunity to learn more about the Christian faith and appreciate its values. I also got the opportunity to share my faith and even teach Arabic to other students, which made me feel a little closer to home.
5. How have you stayed firm in your faith? Do you need special accommodations? What does your Hillsdale support system look like?
To be honest it has been difficult, since Islam is a lifestyle. We have five mandatory daily prayers, and it was difficult to find a place to pray privately throughout my classes. Luckily Islam is not picky about where we pray, so I prayed in classrooms, study rooms, the arb, and at many other places around campus. We also have a special diet, and I can only eat Halal meat. While I was living at Pi Phi, Evelyn was amazing with ordering special meat for me, so I got to eat red meat while I was there. I’m really grateful for how she went out of her way to do that for me.
6. What have you learned about other cultures at Hillsdale? How have you supported other cultural communities?
So when I first moved to Hillsdale, there wasn’t really much support for international students, and me and other international students made a huge effort to build that support for others. We accomplished this through the International Club, and the club has been thriving the past year and a half. We’re hoping that through this effort future students find a little community where they feel closer to home and to also not feel like they’re alone when they move to Hillsdale. One of my favorite memories was when the club hosted the Kenyan Dinner Fundraiser. It was a huge event for us. There were less than ten of us preparing, and there were about a hundred attendees that we needed to cook for. It was definitely stressful. I remember the Kenyan girls staying up until 1 a.m. cooking for this event. But I think this event really brought the club together, and we learned a lot from each other. The Kenyan students taught us how to make their delicious dishes, and we also got to gather with the rest of campus to raise funds for a secondary school in Kenya. We raised around eight hundred dollars, which were used to buy 123 textbooks for more than one hundred students. Another little tradition that we started was Sunday brunches, where the international students sit together every Sunday at noon to catch up with one another.
7. Do you have any advice for international students or students of a religious minority considering/already at Hillsdale?
My advice would be to stay strong in your faith and culture and to not feel like you need to change for the sake of “fitting in.” I think culture is beautiful, and it is what enriches any community, and we definitely need to be proud of it. Another piece of advice would be to be proactive. If you find something that the college is missing, make an effort to fix that problem by bringing it to the attention of the right people. Sometimes people are not aware of an issue unless you bring it up.
8. What are your plans after you graduate?
I no longer want to go to medical school like I originally planned, but I’m still very passionate about medicine and public health. My long-term goal has always been to use the knowledge I gain to help improve my community here and also back home. Though I’m not going to medical school, I would like to work with other doctors to help build a better medical system back in Libya. Because of that I’ll be pursuing a career in business first, and then I’ll combine that with my biochemistry knowledge later down the line when the time is right.
Sara Garfinkle, ’20, studies Rhetoric, Pulic Address, and Hebrew. She plans to be a speechwriter and teacher after graduation. Until then, you can find her baking bread, watching science fiction shows, going on adventures with her Pi Phi sisters, and pranking her younger brother Ben.
Published in February 2020