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Iraqi Woman Describes Her Time in America

October 12, 2011

After spending six months in America working at Iowa State University’s Biology Department, Ms. Aman Ali Qasim Al-Niyazee learned just as much about American culture as she did science.

Born and raised in Baghdad, Niyazee received her MS in Veterinary Surgery and Medicine from Baghdad University. She is currently working for the Iraq Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Health Department in the Zoonotic Disease Sector in Baghdad.

 While working in Baghdad, Niyazee applied to visit America through the Iraq Science Fellowship Program. CRDF Global implemented the program on behalf of the U.S. Department of State in an effort to enhance reconstruction in Iraq by improving the quality of science and engineering education in it’s universities. The fellowship specifically gives Iraqi scientists the opportunity to work alongside their colleagues at host institutions in the United States. Once Niyazee was accepted, World Learning partnered with IRIS to coordinate her cultural activities during her stay in Ames, Iowa. (More information on the program can be read below.)

Niyazee considers herself very fortunate to have learned so much over the past six months. Since April 15, Niyazee has undergone training in the Molecular Biology Department learning scientific practices such as how to diagnose infections in animals. The difference between her work in America versus Iraq, is that her practice in Ames has been hands-on. “Everything at home, I have read in a book,” she said.

According to Niyazee, Iraq is over a century behind when it comes to science, and she hopes to change that when she returns to Baghdad. Although she has high hopes for her return home, she did not feel the same anticipation when leaving for America six months ago. When asked about how Iraq prepared her for America, she said, “They made me frightened of here.” In fact, Niyazee was shocked that she felt so welcomed after arriving in Iowa. She said, “Ames is a nice city. It is green! There is not a crowd like Baghdad and it is easy to communicate with people. I choose not to speak to any strangers on the street in Iraq. It is too dangerous.” Niyazee claims that her short time in America has “changed everything” for her.

Perhaps some of the activities IRIS included her in were key in altering her opinion on America. “I have benefitted so much from IRIS,” said Niyazee. Over the summer, IRIS included her in several cultural activities around Iowa, one being the 97thAnnual Meskwaki Powwow in Tama, Iowa.  Along with IRIS Executive Director Del Christensen and his spouse, Dr. Debora Christensen, Aman joined Stephanie Snow and other Meskwaki natives to learn about Meskwaki heritage at an annual Powwow. Niyazee also visited the historical Jordan House in West Des Moines where she learned about freedom and the “Underground Railroad.” Of course, no trip to Iowa would be complete without a visit to the Iowa State Fair. Although she didn’t have the courage to try fried butter on a stick, Niyazee enjoyed what she called “a very nice day” at the fair.

Del and Aman learning about the "Underground Railroad" at the Jordan House

What may seem like a hot day at the Iowa State Fair for Iowans, is minor to Niyazee’s life in Iraq without electricity. During the month of August, Iraq’s average temperature often surpasses 100 degrees. Niyazee says that the dry heat and lack of electricity makes fasting “very difficult” for Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.  This year Iraq declared it’s first national “heat day” keeping most home from work and school.

Although Niyazee is able to skip out on the harsh weather, she will return to the same world in which she left. She said that the War in Iraq “affects all people. It destroyed our infrastructure completely.” Many of her friends left Iraq for Eastern Europe, America, and neighboring countries such as Jordan during the Gulf War over 20 years ago. “Now there is nothing you can enjoy. I just hope to be safe leaving my home,” said Niyazee.

She hopes that Iraq will soon be more organized and learn to accept people of all different nations and backgrounds.  After speaking of how welcomed she feels in America, Niyazee said, “In Iraq, people should be more kind and help foreigners. I want to learn more and more here in America, but I know in Iraq they will be eager to learn from me.”

Enjoying a taste of home visiting the camels at the fair

Niyazee will leave Ames for Baghdad Oct. 15, but would like to make a public thank you to IRIS, especially to Del and his wife for their hospitality. “I wish that 100 percent of the worlds population would be like them.” Her hopes for the future are to change Iraq by setting an example. After her time in America learning new science practices and about American culture, she advises everyone around the world to “try to be good all the time. To yourself and other people.”

More information- The Iraq Science Fellowship Program is a public-private partnership funded by the US Department of State. This fellowship program gives Iraqi scientists, technicians, and engineers the opportunity to study, research, and work alongside their colleagues at host institutions in the United States in order to increase Iraqi professional and technical capacity while promoting infrastructure and workforce development in the fields of science and engineering. CRDF Global Implements the program on behalf of the Department of State in partnership with World Learning. IRIS is coordinating cultural activities during Niyazee’s stay in Iowa. Participants are diverse in age and gender and come from all over Iraq. Applicants undergo a rigorously competitive selection process, and the selected fellows represent government ministries, university faculty, and small business. The fellowships serve to enhance reconstruction efforts, contribute to Iraq’s economic development and improve the quality of science and engineering education in Iraq’s universities. 

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