Far from Home: Moustafa Elhadary adapts quickly to new environment


Far from Home is an occasional series in which we document a year in the life of international students at Penn State Behrend.

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Moustafa Elhadary had the perfect plan. He and his friends, Khalifa, Saeed and Murrawi, were all going to attend Penn State together.

While they would be enrolled at different commonwealth campuses, they planned to reconvene regularly on weekends to travel, attend football games and sightsee. The group had it all mapped out, and thought it was the perfect way to make Penn State feel like home away from home.

Then came some somber news.

“In mid-August, my friends were drafted into the United Arab Emirates Army,” says Elhadary, a first-year computer engineering major at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. “It’s mandatory that they serve in UAE’s military for one year.”

Elhadary, who has lived in Dubai since 2007, was ineligible for the draft since he is a native of Alexandria, Egypt. While he did not have to serve, the fact that his friends would not be joining him in Pennsylvania was hard to accept.

“I was very surprised to hear the news,” he says. “My friends and I had talked about doing this for years. We were planning on seeing each other every two to three weeks and meeting up at a different Penn State campus each time.”

Rather than dwell on the negative though, Elhadary opted to focus on the positive.

Everything about the United States has been new and exciting for him, and he’s pledged to make the most of it.

“I try to get out of my comfort zone,” he says. “I’ve made my own little community here. What happened with my friends was actually kind of a good thing because I would not have socialized as much if they were here.”

Elhadary is a member of Behrend’s International Student Organization and Muslim Student Association. He plans to become a resident assistant next semester.

He has even experienced some physical changes since enrolling at the college. He can thank his karate class for that.

“I gained some muscles,” he says with a smile. “I know how to defend myself now.”

He says he still gets homesick and misses his parents and sister, Safinaz, but he works to find other things to occupy his time.

“I try to keep myself busy all day. I only come home to sleep, and then I’m back up for class the next day. If I were to just sit in my room, I would only get sad and depressed,” Elhadary says. “I still talk to my parents but only a few times a week. They think I’m trying not to call them, but I’m actually just very busy.”

This December, during winter break, he will return home to see his family. Elhadary is looking forward to the visit, but he says he will be happy to return to Erie for the start of the spring semester.

And he has learned that his friends who are currently serving in the military are planning on enrolling at Penn State Behrend when their service time is up.

“I really like Penn State Behrend. High school was fun, but this is a whole new level,” he says. “People talk about culture shock, but for me, there was no culture shock. It’s just culture, but a different one.”


Far from Home: Yara Elsaied transitions from New York to Erie


Far from Home is an occasional series in which we document a year in the life of an international student at Penn State Behrend.

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

An unfamiliar setting. New faces. New sights. New scents.

It doesn’t scare Yara Elsaied. She’s done this before.

Elsaied is in her first year as a student at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. While Erie, Pennsylvania and Behrend are entirely new for Elsaied, the United States is not. The Cairo native has grown quite fond of the country over the past couple years.

Yara Elsaied walks to class on a fall afternoon.
Yara Elsaied walks to class on a fall afternoon.

In 2013, Elsaied, who had been studying at The American University in Cairo, went to the United States to study at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York, as an exchange student.

She didn’t come back.

For one-and-a-half years, Elsaied attended Stony Brook and learned about American culture. She saw the sights of New York and forged many great relationships. Still, something was missing.

“I always wanted to come here (to Penn State Behrend),” says the senior accounting major, who transferred to Penn State Behrend this fall.

Stony Brook did not have an accounting program, which is what made Behrend so attractive to Elsaied, who one day hopes to work at one of the Big Four audit firms.

The skyscrapers and busy streets that were constants in Elsaied’s life have been replaced by green fields and colorful leaves. She says that she has enjoyed Erie and Behrend in the time she has spent here so far, but she does get homesick.

She misses her family—mother Noha, father Ahmed, sister Mayar (17) and brother Zediad (6)—but now she also misses her New York “family.”

“It was very hard to leave New York, especially one of my best friends, Gabriella.” says Elsaied. “I actually didn’t know how to tell her I was coming here. Thankfully, she totally understood.”

Food has been another challenge for Elsaied. In New York, she was able to get the ingredients needed to cook Egyptian food, but that’s not been the case in Erie. She said she longs for a nice plate of Dolma Mahshi, her favorite Egyptian dish.

But Behrend does have other advantages that help keep her in touch with her heritage.

This fall, the college welcomed 186 new international students, the largest international class ever.

“Compared to New York, there are actually a lot more Egyptians here. The community is much larger here,” Elsaied says.

So far, Elsaied says she enjoys the new friends she has made and also enjoys her coursework. While she misses Cairo and New York, she’ll get a taste of both of them over the holiday break. Her sister will be visiting at that time and the two of them have planned quite the excursion with visits to New York, Florida, Las Vegas, and California all on the to-do list.

A trip to the west coast during an Erie winter sounds like an ideal getaway for Elsaied, who has quickly caught on to one of her new home’s most notable traits.

“Erie weather is so different one day to the next,” Elsaied says. “I always check the weather whenever I leave my apartment.”