Stories

Traveling 6,000+ miles to master English and improve public health

In just two years at Nazareth’s English Language Institute, Mustafa Alhabib ‘20 from Qatif, Saudi Arabia, learned English well enough to pursue a bachelor’s degree in his second language, mastering a new alphabet in the process. He came nearly 6,600 miles because a relative who had come to Rochester told him about high-quality academics at Nazareth and its well-regarded English Language Institute.

Great growth in English

He started English classes in middle school but arrived at Nazareth in March 2014 as an English language beginner, knowing words but not sentences. “When I came to America, I didn’t know to make a conversation with the American people,” he said in a fall 2016 interview. Rigorous classes, hours of studying, and immersion in English outside the classroom that included fun field trips to places such as Niagara Falls led to great results.

  • By spring 2016, in addition to his English Language Institute classes, he took a medical terminology course alongside matriculated Nazareth students.
  • In fall 2016, the 28-year-old began a bachelor’s degree in nursing — all in English. To prepare during the summer, he got three of the books. “Every day I read,” he says.

Health care is his passion

Alhabib was always interested in health care, but he initially pursued welding as a career because there were limited medical studies opportunities at universities in Saudi Arabia. “When I was a child, I liked to read about biology more than any book. I love to help people. If I see animals who will die, I feel sad. If I see someone I don’t know how to help, I feel sad. I like to help anyone in the world.” Also, he adds, “This is my mom’s dream.” He wanted to work and help people in Rochester, because people here have helped him.

Why learn English

“The English language is the first language in the world now. We can make connections with everywhere —  Hungary or France or Italy.… You will see someone who speaks English everywhere.” The Saudi government provided a scholarship to study in the United States. Alhabib doesn’t intend to stop with English and would like to learn Spanish, too.

Challenges along the way

  • Juggling parenting, classes, and studying: When he first came to Nazareth, Alhabib’s wife and baby son were still in Saudi Arabia. Since then, they were able to join him. In 2016, his classes and studying filled much of the day, leaving limited family time. He studied about three times a week in Nazareth’s English Language Center, where he stood out as one of the hardest working, said Ivey Tzetzis, a graduate assistant in the center. “We’d talk about politics, family, religion — pretty advanced English, and he was able to express himself pretty well.”
  • Financial challenge: During his first year at Nazareth, Saudi Arabia significantly cut its scholarship fund for students studying abroad when plunging crude oil prices created a budget crisis. Alhabib sold his car and managed to continue studying English. Despite the stress, said Tzetzis, “He always came in with a smile and asked how I was doing. He was always so calm and so grateful.”
  • Dealing with loss: Alhabib’s mother was a smoker and had lung problems. “She said to me: I hope to see you be a nurse before I die.” She died in 2015, while he was at Nazareth. He was not able to go home then; his father said it was important to not miss school.

Cultural shifts

  • In his home country, like in South America, people are more casual about time and don’t schedule things. “Now I schedule anything.”
  • His home community is more homogenous. At Nazareth, he has made friends with Americans and with international students from multiple countries. “I learned how to respect all people.”

Grateful for help

“My college has good community, good people there," he said in 2016. "If I want someone to help me, I just stand up in the library and I say I want help, and maybe five people come to help me. Everywhere, they help me.”

Winter surprise

When he arrived in March 2014, Rochester had a big snowstorm. “I had only seen snow on the TV, because my country is hot. I was confused and I didn’t understand what happened the first week. After that, I adapt to Rochester.” He stayed at Nazareth through the summers in 2014 and 2015 but was back home in summer 2016. “I missed Rochester. I love Rochester people. I love everywhere in Rochester. I missed the green, the plants. I missed my friends, the American people who are there.” 

Update

To address the broad issues that can affect the health and well-being of individuals, families, communities, populations, and societies now, and for generations to come, Mustafa earned a degree in public health with a minor in data analytics in 2020. After an internship during college at Cameron Community Ministries in Rochester, he was hired as Cameron's full-time food pantry coordinator.

"One big impact of the current pandemic is a rising number of families and individuals who are food insecure," Mustafa said in February 2021. "This means that someone's access to food or eating has reduced because of a lack of money and other resources."

He said he is glad for the opportunity to give back, to expand his knowledge and skills, and to contribute his understanding of how physical, mental, and social health contribute to total health and his skill at using data analytics to improve decision-making, efficiency, and results.

Mustafa Alhabib in front of a brick wall painted in bright colors

Giving back in Rochester

After graduating, he was hired as full-time food pantry coordinator at Cameron Community Ministries in Rochester, where he had interned during college. He said he will put all of his studies to work, including public health and analytics. "Data analytics will assist in improving decision-making, increasing efficiency and results," he says.

Mustafa Alhabib in nursing suite on campus

Mustafa Alhabib, shown as a student in 2016, said he has always wanted to help people.

Great achievement

“It’s an incredible challenge for someone to come in as an absolute beginner and within two years be ready to take a college course.”

— Linda Grossman, assistant director of the English Language Institute at Nazareth

English Language Institute

Nazareth's English Language Institute offers small classes, additional language practice with native English-speaking partners, and integration with academic interests.

Public Health

Nazareth offers both a B.A. and a B.S. degree in public health, with the flexibility to design your own concentration.