Noha Mohamed hears the 3-a.m. knock on the door

by Mike Fisher

Magazine  |  Fall/Winter 2018  |  International  |  Noha Mohamed 

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Imagine it — you’re lying in bed in Cairo at 3 a.m. and an unbidden knock on your apartment door startles you from sleep.

Your heart thumps as you scramble to grab your only weapon — a tennis racquet. The military tanks prowling the streets outside, the looting of stores, the rat-a-tat of machine guns and the throb of television news showing the revolution that would become known as the Arab Spring have ground you down. The knock stomps on your last frayed nerve.

“My mother and I had pushed all our furniture up against the balcony windows,” says Noha Mohamed, BComm’17, recalling the upheaval against then-President Hosni Mubarak that shook Egypt on Jan. 25, 2011. “Just opening the windows might get you shot by mistake. Outside was crazy. We didn’t want anyone breaking in.” 

They never found out who’d knocked on the door. It was one moment in a string of terrors that seemed surreal in what had been a peaceful, well-kept city neighbourhood. Cairo, where Mohamed grew up, had become a war zone.

Mohamed had already planned to study business at UCalgary, where her sister was pursuing a degree in fine arts. She left Egypt that summer for Calgary and graduated within several years. Though she’d earned $12,000 in scholarships and had her sister in Calgary, she faced daunting challenges that can be common for international students.

“Adjusting to a new city, the cold weather, having no friends, still grieving the loss of my father [who died a few years earlier] and leaving my mother alone for a time in Egypt, it all took a toll on my mental health,” says Mohamed. “I got stuck in a loop of stress and depression.”

I continue to get priceless support as an alumna.

Noha Mohammed, BComm’17

University help comes when needed

The first person to tell her that things were going to be all right was Rasha Tawfik, an academic advisor at the Haskayne Career Centre. Then Mohamed’s mom gave her a pep talk. She rallied herself and established successes — overcoming a difficult class, getting involved in the Alliances in Marketing Club at Haskayne, securing a job in the Haskayne marketing department (where she worked for three years before graduating) and, most important to her, starting Calgary Arabia, a popular radio show for the local Arabic-speaking community on Red FM. 

“The support I’ve received from the [UCalgary] Career Centre, the people I worked with in the marketing department, and the opportunities I got from my extracurricular involvement are all factors that have helped shape the person I am today,” says Mohamed. “I continue to get priceless support as an alumna from the Centre for International Students and Study Abroad, which helps the university community with immigration, refugees and Citizenship Canada.”

When a university welcomes others, they can make a new home

Words that carry heavy freight — courage, strength and resilience — are tough enough to express in actions during our lives. Most of us have not had to bear the hard weight of history in a war-torn country, where just staying alive is a challenge. Yet, three remarkable people connected to the University of Calgary — one from Rwanda, one from Croatia and one from Egypt — escaped from armed conflicts in their homelands and, in their journeys, ferried hope. The university has been a landing place, of sorts, for their starts and triumphs.

We in Canada are the better for it, the beneficiaries of each of their victories. They give back more than they can possibly take. The question of why here and at what cost, often raised like a flag, invites a compassionate answer. They are here for the same reasons any of us might be. They seek to improve their lives and help their loved ones, and, by doing so, they enrich ours. 

Noha Graduates

Noha Mohaamed beams at her 2017 UCalgary convocation.

For 3 ½ years, Noha Mohamed has been hosting Calgary Arabia, on Red FM. Here, she’s interviewing attendees at the Calgary Arab Film Nights Festival.

For 3 ½ years, Noha Mohamed has been hosting Calgary Arabia, on Red FM. Here, she’s interviewing attendees at the Calgary Arab Film Nights Festival.

Magazine  |  Fall/Winter 2018  |  International  |  Noha Mohamed 

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