Egyptian Exchange Student Soaks Up American Culture

Norhan Abdeldeyem was a bundle of nerves and excitement when an opportunity to study abroad presented itself.

This was Abdeldeyem’s first time leaving Egypt, let alone entering the U.S. But she’s found a home at UCF, where she is studying actuarial science through the Department of Statistics and Data Science, with a double minor in economics and computer science.

Abdeldeyem began her academic career as a biology major at the American University of Cairo. She quickly realized that her passions aligned with the study of statistics after taking an introductory course on the subject.

“My parents originally wanted me to go to medical school, but I changed my mind after taking a couple of biology courses,” said Abdeldeyem. “My statistics professor in Cairo pulled me aside and asked why I was not pursuing statistics as my course of study, and I wondered the same thing.”

Actuarial science is a niche area of study encompassing mathematical and statistical methods to assess “risk” in a number of industries. Yet it is widely applicable and provides Abdeldeyem with a sense of security for the future.

“I could apply statistics to the insurance industry, to banking, to economics — there is an endless list of applications. The reason I love my major so much is because it is so diverse,” said Abdeldeyem. “But I think I’d really like to be a professor eventually.”

While at UCF Abdeldeyem has been a part of some classic Floridian activities, including Hurricane Dorian’s arrival at the beginning of the semester. The hurricane brought with it one of Abdeldeyem’s favorite memories so far.

Abdeldeyem and other exchange students sheltered in the home of a UCF global ambassador and learned how to play games like Cards Against Humanity and What Do you Meme? That, along with the introduction to new movies, was an enlightening experience.

“We really learned a lot about each other and our different cultures,” Abdeldeyem remembers with a smile.

Of course, with any new place comes preconceived notions. Abdeldeyem finds that her assumptions continue to be challenged daily in a positive way.

“In Egypt we have a stereotype regarding Western culture, that Americans are selfish by nature. But I have found the exact opposite, and the Americans I have met are extremely friendly, polite and willing to help,” said Abdeldeyem. “I remember I was struggling with my luggage at the airport when I first got here and I was shocked that so many people offered to help me just because they noticed I was having trouble. That was really nice and something I didn’t expect.”

Of course, while she’s having a great time visiting, there is also plenty of homesickness. American food, for instance, is much different than what she’s accustomed to, including portion sizes and sweetness.

Abdeldeyem will continue her studies at UCF for the remainder of the Fall semester before returning home. One of the things she will miss the most is the anonymity of a large campus with flourishing student diversity.

“The best thing about my experience at UCF so far has been the people. There are so many different people, from so many different backgrounds, and I feel like I am constantly learning something new. Not only that, but it is nice to feel incognito around campus and not like everyone knows who you are and what you’re up to. It allows you to focus more on school,” said Abdeldeyem.

Norhan’s experience was made possible by the Nancy and Jonathan Wolf Global Academic Initiative, a program established in 2018 to facilitate faculty, student and program exchanges between UCF and the American University in Cairo.

“Studying abroad is often a life-changing experience. When you’re immersed in a new culture for months at a time you can soak up so much more than you would as a tourist.  We’re proud to provide an opportunity like this to Norhan and see how she applies this in her future studies and career,” said Nancy Wolf.

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