Creating the Penn State Behrend Performance Band was one of Miranda’s many highlights


One of Craig Miranda’s favorite moments from this past academic year was creating the Penn State Behrend Performance Band, which performed a series of concerts on campus by the spring semester’s end.

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Editor’s note: Far from Home is an occasional series in which we document a year in the life of international students at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College.

When Craig Miranda arrived at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, he had one goal.

“Even though I’m just a freshman, I want to start big. I want to make an impact,” the first-year computer science major said at the beginning of the academic year.

Miranda did more than start big. He finished big.

Through the course of the academic year, he excelled in the classroom, joined numerous campus organizations, started his own club, joined the tennis team and even presented a project at the Clinton Global Initiative University’s 2015 meeting, held this past March in Miami.

It’s not how Miranda expected his first year to go when he set foot on campus last August.

“I came here thinking that I would be more secluded. I thought I would just focus on getting my work done to get through, but it turned out to be the opposite,” he says.

Miranda credits the friends he made at Behrend with helping him get involved. Being so far away from home can be challenge, but he’s begun to build a strong support system at the college through the friends he has made.

“Friends are what help me to keep going,” he says. “They give me an escape to get away from whatever I’m feeling, whether it’s homesickness or something else.”

Together with his friends, Miranda created the Penn State Behrend Performance Band student organization as an outlet for anyone who enjoys singing or performing live music. By the end of the semester, the band had 12 members and had performed six concerts.

“We want to reach diverse groups of people, who come from different cultures and might have different tastes in music,” Miranda says of the student organization. “One of the songs we performed this year was an original written by two of our members, and it included both English and Chinese lyrics.”

An emphasis on musical diversity is a reason why Miranda, currently president of the club, has already begun the process of having the Penn State Behrend Performance Band brought under the college’s Multi-Cultural Council (MCC) banner. As the group grows, he envisions it being used even more to promote diversity on campus.

Miranda’s work with the band, coupled with his other accomplishments, made for a busy year, but he says he has no plans to slow down over the summer. Now back home in Kuwait, he reports that he’s already thinking about returning to Behrend in the fall, with plans to do “do something a lot bigger.”

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Far from Home: List of goals serve as motivation for Moustafa Elhadary


Editor’s note: Far from Home is an occasional series in which we document a year in the life of international students at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College.

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

“Make something big,” “A in all classes,” “Freshman of the year.” Every day, Moustafa Elhadary reads these words a multitude of times.

Moustafa phone
Moustafa Elhadary has programmed a list of goals for the spring semester in his iPod that he will refer to as the year goes on.

Elhadary, a first-year computer engineering major at Penn State Behrend, has programmed a list of goals into his iPod. Placed on a radiant yellow background, the list was created by Elhadary as he sat inside a plane on his way back from his home country of Dubai for the start of the spring semester in January.

He reached many of his goals during the fall semester. He compiled a 3.88 GPA and served as a senator for the Student Government Association, chairman of the International Student Organization and promotional coordinator for the Muslim Student Association.

However, he says he hopes this is only the beginning for him. That’s where his list comes into play.

“I always put my homework assignments into my iPod, so when I look at my homework, I see these goals, and because they’re vibrant yellow, they grab my attention every time,” Elhadary says. “It reminds me that I came here for a reason. Sometimes you get caught up in the everyday things, and this list reminds me, ‘Hey Moustafa, your parents spent a lot of money for you to come here, and you need to make them proud.’”

This is one of the main reasons Elhadary has set out to make the most of his time at Penn State Behrend. While he has been active in many clubs, he has been mindful of his academics. Last semester, he had an epiphany.

“I thought, ‘What if I can stay here for four years and get two degrees instead of one?’” Elhadary recalls. “So, in the middle of the semester, I said, ‘Why not?’”

At the moment, Elhadary is taking 22 credits and considering second major options. Industrial engineering or software engineering are possibilities, but he also might consider a business major.

With so many credits this semester combined with his extracurricular activities, time has proven to be a limited resource for Elhadary. At times, he’s even struggled to find time to connect with his family.

“I’ve barely called them because of my schedule,” he says. “I’ve really been trying to, but it’s hard.”

Fortunately, thanks to his iPod, he gets frequent reminders. It’s right there in bright yellow: “Call Zazo, Many and Papy more often.”

Moustafa Elhadary, left, has made a list of goals for the spring semester, one of which is to make more friends. He’s already made a number of friends at the college though, including fellow international students Hansel Lobo, center, and Tyagadipta Biswal. The trio made a trip to Pittsburgh during the fall semester.


Far from Home: Washington, D.C., trip is an eye opener for Craig Miranda


Craig Miranda, right, spent his winter break visiting his brother Clive, who lives in Washington, D.C.
Craig Miranda, right, spent his winter break visiting his brother Clive, who lives in Washington, D.C.

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Editor’s note: Far from Home is an occasional series in which we document a year in the life of international students at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College.

As Craig Miranda made his way up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he could not help but stop to revel in the moment. The brisk air and tenacious winds that day were unlike anything the Kuwait native had experienced so far in the United States, but they did not deter his concentration from the history he was just then experiencing.

“I stopped right where Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,” said Miranda, a first-year computer science major at Penn State Behrend. “I just stood there, and I started to film a video. I could just feel the inspiration.”

Miranda’s epiphany atop the Lincoln Memorial was one of the many memories he made during a visit to Washington, D.C., this winter break. Rather than return home, Miranda opted to spend the holidays with his brother, Clive Miranda, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in physiology from Georgetown University.

For more than 20 days, the two spent time touring the city’s monuments and sights. From the White House to the Washington Monument, every base was covered. For Miranda, whose exposure to the United States was previously limited to Erie, the trip was an eye-opener.

Protesters were everywhere. Public transportation was a new concept. And he had never done so much walking in his life.

“It really helped me compare and contrast Erie to other places that I have not yet seen,” he said.

For all of the trip’s unfamiliarities, one constant remained.

“I have such a strong bond with my brother,” Miranda said. “As soon as I got there, I could feel that bond being reunited.”

Miranda’s visit with his brother was also special because this marked the first time he spent Christmas and New Year’s Day away from his family in Kuwait. He says he missed home, but spending the holidays with his brother was the next-best thing.

Miranda even surprised Clive with a special — and appropriate — Christmas gift: a Penn State jersey.

The way that Clive expressed his gratitude might have been the best gift of all, though.

“He wore it onto the campus of Georgetown University,” Miranda said. “I forced him to do it, but it was so fun.”

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Far from Home: Craig Miranda experiences first finals week


Editor’s note: Far from Home is an occasional series in which we document a year in the life of international students at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College.

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Craig Miranda has experienced plenty of things during his first semester in America. He’s seen snow for the first time, traveled to New York City and even started his own musical performing club at Penn State Behrend.

Last week, the first-year computer science major experienced something new: the dreaded all-nighter.

For Miranda, it was not exactly a bad thing though.

“I usually leave a few things to the last minute,” the Kuwait native says. “I like the adrenaline rush that comes from it. You’re so stressed, but you’re also able to absorb so much information because of that.”

Miranda has not been pulling the all-nighters in vain. This week marks finals week at the college, and he has high expectations.

“I want to make the dean’s list,” he says. “I know my freshman year is so important when it comes to getting internships.”

Thankfully, Miranda has had plenty of help when it comes to staying motivated. In Niagara Hall, he and his friends get together to study each night. These study sessions usually go until 4 a.m., but that doesn’t mean they don’t sprinkle some fun into each session.

“We’ve been taking over the study room each night. Then at 2 a.m., just for a half hour, we will blast music. The music pumps us all up, so then we’re ready to study again,” he says.

With all of the late-night study sessions, Miranda estimates that he is now averaging just over four hours of sleep per night. That’s OK because he says that’s all he needs. After all, he already has the perfect recovery plan.

“I can hibernate during winter break,” he says with a smile.

Miranda’s last final exam for the fall semester will be this Friday, Dec. 19. He will leave on Saturday for Washington D.C. where he will spend the winter break with his brother, Clive, who is pursuing a master’s degree at Georgetown University.

Before he leaves though, he already has a personal celebration planned in honor of completing his first round of final exams.

“Since no one will be around, I plan on taking over the (Niagara Hall) lounge and watching movies and eating,” he says. “I also plan on going sledding. I still love the snow. The only problem is the wind.”

Craig Miranda, a first-year computer science major, is in the midst of his first finals week. To help prepare himself, he’s been studying heavily, even if it means pulling an all-nighter.


Far from Home: Moustafa Elhadary longs to return home to Dubai this winter break


Editor’s note: Far from Home is an occasional series in which we document a year in the life of international students at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College.

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Six cities. Five connecting flights. Thirty-five hours of travel. That’s what’s ahead for Moustafa Elhadary on Sunday.

He couldn’t be more excited.

The first-year mechanical engineering major will leave on Dec. 21 to return to Dubai after completing his first semester at Penn State Behrend. It’s his first time traveling alone, and he knows he may be in for some long, uncomfortable and boring plane rides.

But his thoughts are on being reunited with his family and friends, and that’s all that matters right now.

“Recently, I’ve been really homesick. I want to see my friends, speak my native language and eat my mom’s food,” Elhadary says. “I thought I’d be stronger than this, but I just want to go back and do the things that I would normally do.”

That’s not to suggest that he has not enjoyed his first semester at Penn State Behrend. It’s actually the contrary as Elhadary has quickly developed into a campus leader at the college. He serves as a SGA senator, chairperson for the International Student Organization, promotional coordinator for the Muslim Student Association, and he is active in club soccer.

“I can’t wait to tell my friends about my experience,” Elhadary says. “When I came here, I didn’t know what to expect. I only saw America in movies and television, but it’s been amazing. Maybe I can even encourage my friends to come here next year.”

Elhadary is excited to return home for other reasons as well. For starters, he’s never had a greater appreciation for the homemade food his mother, Maha, makes than he does now.

“I miss my mom’s food so much. The taste, ingredients, spice — all of it is so good,” he says.

His father, Mahmoud, recently purchased a new Ford Expedition, and Elhadary longs to take the new wheels for a spin.

He also knows he’s not the only one who has been busy these last four months. He’s excited to catch up with his 16-year-old sister, Safinaz, and hear about the new things in her life.

“I’m very close with her, and I’m sure she has a ton of things to tell me,” Elhadary says.

Elhadary will be in Dubai until he leaves to return to Erie on Jan. 9. He says the three-week break will just what he needs to recharge his batteries before the start of the spring semester.

And just as he now misses Dubai, he says he is sure to miss Erie while he’s gone as well.

“I have so many friends here (at Penn State Behrend), and I’m still making friends too. It’s just been awesome,” Elhadary says.

Elhadary family
Moustafa Elhadary, a first-year mechanical engineering major, is excited to return home to Dubai this winter break, so he can be reunited with his mother, Maha (right), sister Safinaz (behind) and father Mahmoud (far back).


Far from Home: The Nittany Lions football team has a new fan in Moustafa Elhadary


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 did not know much about Penn State when he arrived in the United States for the first time this summer.  Everything from the weather to American college coursework was uncharted territory.

But he knew about one of the school’s greatest traditions, and he knew he wanted to be part of it.

“There were a lot of things I wanted to do this year, and going to a football game was one of them,” says Elhadary, a first-year computer engineering major at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. “It’s been on my bucket list for quite some time. I mean, it’s Penn State.”

He got his wish on Nov. 1, when he and friends took a bus from Penn State Behrend to University Park to watch the Nittany Lions’ game against the University of Maryland.

In Dubai, Elhadary’s home since 2007, American football is all but a myth. Fùtbol, better known as soccer in the U.S., is the most popular game there, and everyone is encouraged to participate and follow the sport. For Elhadary, football was a welcomed change.

From the moment he entered Beaver Stadium, Elhadary was overwhelmed by the sheer spectacle of a football Saturday at Penn State.

“I was really impressed by the number of people there. There were just tons of people,” he says.

He was further astounded once the game began. First downs, turnovers, illegal procedures — all of it was entirely new for Elhadary.

“At first, I had no idea what was going on,” he says. “I didn’t even know if we were winning or losing, so I just followed my friends’ lead.”

As the game continued, things became clearer. With each ensuing cheer and boo, Elhadary began to feel as if he was a part of something.

This synergy was especially evident with 3:18 left in the third quarter when Christian Hackenberg threw an eight-yard touchdown to Jesse James to give Penn State a 16-7 lead. Elhadary says it was even more noticeable after Maryland took the lead with less than a minute left in the game.

“It was almost as if everyone in the stadium had the exact same thought inside their heads,” he says. “They were angry at times. Then they were really happy at other times.”

Elhadary says he was upset that Penn State lost 20-19, but he was happy he was there to see it.

His football knowledge remains a work in progress for him, but he’s committed to educating himself; he’s already planning on attending the Michigan State Blue Out game on Nov. 29.

He has also learned one of the favorite pastimes for football fans: trash talking.

“One of my friends from back home actually goes to Maryland, and I haven’t talked to him since the game,” Elhadary says. “He can talk trash to me now. That’s why I haven’t talked to him.”

Moustafa football
Moustafa Elhadary attended his first Penn State football game on November 1. Here he is shown (far right) with friends Kenton Klobusnik (far left), Matthew Wheeler and Alyssa Anderson.

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.”