Hadda Estrada understands experiences of international students
By Catherine Ferguson, SNJM
In February, Hadda Estrada left for Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Lebanon to recruit international students for the Community Colleges of Spokane (CCS).
As dean for global education and strategic partnerships at the CCS since 2016, she previously has traveled in China, Mexico, Colombia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and Lebanon to interest students in studying in Spokane.
Speaking French, Berber, Arabic, Italian, English, Latin and Spanish fluently eases her communication to recruit international students.
So does her own experience coming to the United States as an international student.
"Education is the most powerful weapon. You can use it to change the world," she said.
Motivated by that belief, she enjoys not only recruiting international students and supporting them while they are here, but also helping the community colleges integrate the global into their planning.
She is also on the Mayor's Advisory Committee for Multicultural Affairs.
"The campus and the Spokane community have worked together to make Spokane 'the city of choice' for international students," Hadda said.
Much of what she does in her present position arose out of a previous position at Spokane Falls Community College, where she helped to start its Gateway to College program.
"At first, we had no structure. We strived to build on diversity and enhance equity among students. In the program, students earned their high school diplomas and college credits at the same time," she said. "We worked with students between the ages of 16 and 20 who had left high school or were struggling to finish school."
Hadda affirms that helping students on the margins learn to succeed depends more than anything on a human connection.
She needs to understand the students' living situations to know how to support them and encourage them to pursue their college education.
In the process, she learned she has a gift in communicating with students who felt they didn't have a chance. She taught them to develop persistence and resilience to figure things out and to believe things would get better.
"I lived similar experiences and could draw parallels on what it meant not to belong in certain spaces," she said. "Students connected with me and believed if I made it so could they."
At both Spokane Falls Community College with students on the margin and with international students, Hadda delivers a similar message to students:
"I see you. I hear you. I understand you. Here is a welcoming space. You don't have to change," she said.
How did Hadda gain these skills and this wisdom?
Each step in her journey seemed to develop a set of skills leading her to Spokane and her present position.
Hadda comes from a family of immigrants. Her father lived in the Middle Atlas Region of Morocco, speaking Berber, a language that didn't gain official status until 2011. From him, she learned a Muslim world view and to speak Berber and Arabic.
Her mother's family emigrated from Italy to North Africa after World War II. From her, she learned a Christian world view and Italian.
Her parents met in the Middle Atlas region, but because of conflict left Morocco in the 1970s for France and started over from scratch.
Hadda was born and grew up in Paris. Even as a child, she spoke several languages, one of them Berber.
"If you talk to people in a language they understand, that goes to the head. If you talk in their language, that goes to the heart," she quotes a proverb from Nelson Mandela to explain how her language competency gave her the compassion that makes her effective.
"In our household, we spoke easily in multiple languages, moving from one to the other. So when I went to school, I sometimes didn't even know what language I was speaking. I just spoke the way we did at home. When someone said they didn't understand what I had just said, I wasn't aware that I hadn't been speaking French."
Growing up in such diversity—multiple cultures, multiple languages—Hadda sometimes experienced the trauma of not knowing where she fit in society, where she belonged.
When she was young, Hadda shared her feelings about this with her mother who told her, "With languages and a pen, you will conquer the world."
She said South African comedian Trevor Noah expressed the same idea:
"Language brings with it an identity and a culture, or at least the perception of it. A shared language says, 'We're the same.' A language barrier says, 'We're different.' My color didn't change, but I could change your perception of my color. If you spoke Zulu, I replied in Zulu. If you spoke to me in Tswana, I replied in Tswana. Maybe I didn't look like you, but If I spoke like you, I was like you."
She also quoted Brené Brown, a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, on the power of vulnerability: "Courage gives us a voice and compassion gives us an ear. Without both, there is no empathy, no connection."
Hadda came to the U.S. to pursue a master's degree in business at a historic time, arriving in 2001 from the University of Paris-Est just after 9/11.
She came to the University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM) because her school had an exchange program with it. She did not know English, so she spent many hours at the Biliothèque Georges Pompidou in Paris, learning English well enough to pass the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and GMAT exams, ensuring her acceptance at ULM.
Until she arrived, Hadda didn't realize how many variations English had. In her first days in Louisiana, she discovered people in Louisiana spoke a completely different English. After consulting with her advisor, she took six months off to learn Louisiana English and connect with the people.
After completing her degree, a master's in mass communication, she sold her car, turned in her keys and prepared to return home.
However, because of her success in her studies and as a graduate assistant, the university called to offer her a job and to sponsor her to stay in the U.S.
Just after 9/11, she saw fights in the cafeteria between international students and U.S. students over their world views. She felt ULM was not prepared to support diverse students.
"I was grateful for the experience but soon realized that no matter where I was, I was competing for an education and against stereotypes. It was a revealing moment for me," Hadda said.
Nonetheless, her mother persuaded her to stay and take advantage of the opportunity. Eventually, she married Jaime Estrada, also a grad student. After they had their first child, Noah, their first priority was raising him.
They decided they needed to move and decided they wanted to go to a mid-sized city with good educational opportunities, and access to nature and outdoor activities like hiking, biking and skiing, a place where they could both pursue their careers. Spokane fit the profile.
Soon after they moved here in 2010, they had their second child, Kamil. Before moving, they decided that the person who didn't have a job would stay home at least a year and learn about the new environment. Jaime secured a job in blood banking, so Hadda set about learning about Spokane and its people.
After a year, Hadda began working as a completion coach and teaching communication studies at Spokane Falls Community College.
In her class on intercultural communications, U.S. students came to realize they, too, had a culture. At first, they had difficulty responding to questions about elements of the U.S. culture: What are typical foods? When someone is invited to a party at 8 p.m., when should they arrive to be "on time"? To what does the U.S. culture give more value: the family someone comes from or their accomplishments?
"What does the fish know of water in which it swims in all its life?" Hadda quoted to explain the lack of awareness.
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, May, 2019