From Algeria to DC: Selma at American University Strives to Become a Diplomat

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By Kate Sitarz
Last updated on August 11, 2023

For Selma, the International Accelerator Program at American University was the foundational step she needed to earn her bachelor’s degree in international studies, then pursue her master’s degree in economics.

SelmaAlgeriaAmerican University

When Selma arrived in the United States from Algeria in 2019, she had already completed two years at an Algerian university. Her parents, who are diplomats, had moved the family to Washington, DC, for their jobs. Selma chose to apply to American University because of the international student population and its campus.

But it was not immediately smooth sailing. The process of getting transcripts and paperwork from her previous university was not straightforward. Fortunately, Selma had the support of Pilar Menendez, director of admissions for the American University International Accelerator Program

“The time and effort she put into helping me is what allowed me to take all the steps I needed to get admitted to the International Accelerator Program,” said Selma.

And it was all worth it: with American University accepting some of the credits from her previous school, Selma earned her bachelor’s degree in just two years. Now, she is continuing her education at American University, pursuing her Master of Arts in International Economic Relations.

Mitigating Culture Shock

Selma’s previous school was in a small town in Algeria and, thanks to the International Accelerator Program, her transition to American University and life in the United States has been smooth. 

“It helped me avoid the culture shock that my sister and brother had,” she said, sharing that her siblings moved back to Algeria. “Sometimes I think I was not ready to be a student in the US yet; I needed that preparatory phase for one semester.”

In addition to preparing her for college, the International Accelerator Program gave Selma an initial overview of what it’s like to live in such a diverse country. “All countries are in the US. In one of my classes, we had students from China, Korea, and Russia,” she began. “Somehow, they managed to make us communicate together, even though everyone’s English is not perfect.” Selma said they had regular conversations and learned to have fun together. 

“[The International Accelerator Program] prepared me culturally, helping me understand Americans, as well as accepting other cultures. It taught me to respect people’s boundaries,” she continued, noting that it was especially helpful to learn about Americans’ tendency to value personal space. 

“We can still have conversations with people who are different from us,” she said. “And we can avoid confrontation with communication.”

Earning a Master’s at American University

While she studied biochemistry and law in Algeria, Selma decided to major in international studies at American University. “When I came here, I was very lost,” she admitted. “I wanted to become a diplomat like my parents, but so many people said that there is no work in political science.” The School of International Service was exactly what she was looking for. 

“I come from a country that has been through a lot. They have all the brains that can make the economy thrive. I see so much potential there,” Selma explained. She focused her studies on the global economy and Sub-Saharan Africa with a plan to eventually return to support her country and continent.

“Hopefully one day I am in a position where I can help,” she said.

After graduating in two years, Selma decided to pursue her master’s degree. At first she was looking at other schools, but with friends in Washington, DC, and connections with incredible professors, she wanted to spend more time at American University. Plus, with all the moving she did growing up, Selma loved the sense of belonging on American’s campus.

Selma earned a scholarship from the School of International Service that will cover part of her tuition as she pursues her Master of Arts in International Economic Relations. She wants to gain the skills needed to influence change at the intersection of economics and international relationships. 

As she pursues her degree, she is still committed to becoming a diplomat. Selma firmly believes in the power of youth to shape the future. 

“We have traveled everywhere and have more international experience at a very young age,” she stressed. “We are able to see what we can do for our country from an international lens.”

She urged other students to go through the International Accelerator Program, too, particularly other Algerian students. “It may sound like I am promoting it,” she joked, “but it is so important coming from one country to another.”

She also recommends learning cultural English — words that may not be in your language. “Because you are not just coming here for a course,” she said. “You are coming here to live and interact and make connections.”

“The first step is important — it takes you everywhere. [The International Accelerator Program] is a solid step to make you more comfortable and ready to go.”

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