Introducing Mohammad Nizar ElBsat in his own words: I am 27 years old, born in Saida, Lebanon. My dad is a co-owner of a rotisserie chicken restaurant in my hometown. My mom is a grade school teacher at a public school in the south of Lebanon. I have one older sister, Rania, and she is the chief accountant at the Hariri Canadian University in Lebanon. I went to the National Evangelical Institute for Girls and Boys from kindergarten till the end of high school. I then got my diploma in electrical engineering at the Lebanese University.
How did you find yourself in Milwaukee? What made you make the decision to move to a different country?
As far as I can remember, I have always loved to travel even though I didn’t get to do a lot of it while I was growing up. Also, I have always been fascinated by Western culture, and I have always wanted to live abroad. While finishing up my undergraduate studies, my uncle, who used to be a resident of Brookfield, WI and a professor at Marquette University, asked me to apply to Marquette for my Masters’. I was interested in the field of research that he was working in, I got accepted, and I found myself in Milwaukee. The decision to move to a different country, I think, was made in my sub consciousness ever since I was a kid. As I said, coming to the US has always been a dream of mine especially with the fact that my uncle used to live here. I was basically following in his footsteps.
What has been the most difficult thing transition to make?
The most difficult thing was leaving the life I had built for myself for 22 years in Lebanon. With this said, the difficulty was overshadowed by the excitement of starting a new adventure. Actually, now that I think about it, packing was very difficult. If it were up to me, I would have moved my room at my parents’ house to the US.
What do you miss most about home?
I miss mostly my family. I miss having dinner with my family. I miss the smell of my Mom’s and Grandma’s cooking. I miss the bickering with my sister. I miss family gatherings during the holidays. I miss the Muslim holidays themselves even though I am not very religious. But, I do miss them.
What do you most like most about living in the US/abroad?
What I love most about living here is the diversity of people that I get to meet. I love the independence I have for myself. I just love the way people live here. You don’t have to care much about other people think or what society thinks. If you want to do something, it is up to you and you only to go ahead and do it. In other words, if you make the initiative towards something, it is most likely to be achieved if you also work hard enough of course. I think one more thing that I like here is the discipline that people have. It is something that you can find here or in the Western culture in general. I am not saying that people in my home country are not disciplined, but let us just say that they have a different level of discipline.
You are an engineer by trade, but have dabbled in theatre arts? Could you tell us a bit more about your journey?
Actually, one of the reasons for my excitement to come to the US is because I wanted to get involved in Theatre and acting in general. If you talk to my friends and teachers from high school, they will tell you that I have always been a fan of acting, movies, and arts in general. I used to wake up 3 am in the morning on a school night just to watch the Oscars live. Crazy, I know. I have this dream of winning an Oscar. You never know. Anyway, when I came to Marquette, I joined the Marquette University Players Society. However, I didn’t get involved at all because I got distracted by some minute things that we don’t have to talk about. In 2008, I went to see a production at the department of performing arts, and I was very impressed. I decided to take an acting class at UWM School of continuing education. I then started auditioning for the 2008-2009 season at Marquette, and I got cast in three plays. I was walking on clouds when that happened. Then, I did another show in 2010. Recently, I performed for the first time in a production called “Omnium Gatherum”, which was off-campus. It was a great experience. I have definitely learned a lot from being on stage. It reinforced my self-confidence, improved my communication skills, which will come in handy in my engineering career, and allowed me to meet a group of great people.
How do you deal with culture shock/homesickness?
I actually didn’t have a huge culture shock when I came here. The reason is because I came with an open mind. I was determined on adapting without losing myself. I made friends, shared my culture with several people, and also continuously showed interest in learning about the culture here. Whenever I feel homesick, I either call my parents or I cook Lebanese food. The smell of my home cooked Lebanese food gives me the sense of self that is usually lost when you are feeling homesick. It allows me to get centered again, and it connects me back to my roots.
Do you envision living in the US long term? Why or why not?
I can see myself living in the US for a while. I would definitely love to gain some experience from working in the US and also to give back by sharing my expertise. When it comes to the future, I believe it is naïve to be absolute or very definitive about your answer. You never know where life might take you. I went to Europe recently, and I liked it very much. Does it mean I might move to Europe? Well, I do not know
Any advice for anyone planning to move to a foreign country?
When you are moving to a foreign country, go with an open mind. It may be terrifying especially if you do not know anyone in the country to which you are headed, but think of it as a chance for you to grow up independently and also a chance to find who you really are. Be ready to learn about the new culture, to share your culture, and to explore yourself. One thing I always say to newcomers during orientations, do not always hang out with people from your home country. It will only make adapting more difficult. Branch out and meet the natives, as native as they can get. Talk to them. Communication is key.
Editor’s note: To learn more about Mohammad’s home country of Lebanon, check out this video he created to share more Lebanese culture.