Far from Home: Moustafa Elhadary adapts quickly to new environment

November 12, 2014

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

“In mid-August, my friends were drafted into the United Arab Emirates Army (UAE),” said 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.”

A native of Alexandria, Egypt, who has lived in Dubai only since 2007, Elhadary was not required to serve. His friends, however, would not be joining him in Pennsylvania.

“I was very surprised to hear the news,” he said. “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. He says 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 said. “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.

"People talk about culture shock, but for me, there was no culture shock. It’s just culture, but a different one.”

-- Moustafa Elhadary, computer engineering major at Penn State Behrend

“I gained some muscles,” he says with a smile.

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 said. “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, he will return home for a visit but he says he knows he will be happy to return to Erie for 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 time in the service is up.

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

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated November 12, 2014