This is the second in a series of stories on SUNY Broome’s international students, who come from all over the globe. The college will celebrate International Week from Nov. 13 through 17. International students will share the cuisines of their homeland at the Dining Hall, and will visit the BC Center to read children’s books from their home countries.
Today we meet Elnur Adl Zarabi, an Engineering Science major from Denmark by way of Azerbaijan.
“Where are you from?”
For many Americans, it’s a fraught question because it implies that they are something other, that they come from elsewhere and don’t belong.
Elnur Adl Zarabi meant no offense when he asked his American peers that question, but he was surprised as to the answer. Whatever they looked like or language they spoke, they answered: “I am American.” With his English touched by a slight accent, Zarabi surmised that he, too, could claim to be American – and no one would question that claim.
As an international student, that was a bit hard to grasp at first.
“Here, I’m considered a white person. In Europe, I would be looked at as an immigrant,” explained Zarabi, an Engineering Science major now in his second year at SUNY Broome.
He was born in Copenhagen, Denmark – “our mini-Manhattan,” he joked – to parents from Azerbaijan, a country formerly part of the Soviet Union located on the shores of the Caspian Sea. His mother comes from the Russian-speaking part of the country, and his father from the Iranian portion; the country shares borders with both.
Despite being born and raised in Denmark, he isn’t looked upon as Danish by his peers. But here at SUNY Broome, he’s simply part of the campus community, a high-achieving student in a tough major and eager to succeed.
Elnur speaks English fluently, thanks to a private English-language school he attended before high school. He first learned about SUNY Broome when he and his father visited a family friend in Johnson City, who encouraged Elnur to consider the college as an option.
Zarabi worked in the moving business for a few years after graduating high school, and then helped his mother open a florist shop. When it was time to consider college, he opted for the school he once saw on the other side of the ocean.
Why not college in Denmark, which is famously free? Zarabi said he found higher education in the United States to be tougher and more competitive, with more exams.
“I get more out of it. If I don’t do my homework, I will not pass the class,” he explained. “I’m an overachiever; that’s what my professors call me. I don’t like low grades.”
Adjustment to college life had its own challenges. Back at home, he lived with his parents. In the United States, he lives in his own apartment – with all the responsibilities that come with self-sufficiency, from making food and getting up on time for class, to acquiring car insurance. In the early days, he sometimes forgot to eat, but he’s getting better at taking care of himself, he said.
Going away to college made him more mature on other fronts, too. Initially quite shy, he found guidance from Susan Wellington, Assistant Director of International Admissions, in navigating his American experience.
“It has opened me up a lot, coming here. Many good things have come out of it,” he said.
His studies keep him busy, and he’s on campus from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. After school, he grabs a workout at the gym, catches a movie or sleeps. Weekends are time to catch up with friends, or play video games – a life pattern that many of his American peers can appreciate.
Looking ahead, he hopes to transfer to Texas Tech University to major in petroleum engineering, with a focus on offshore operations.
There are some things he wish he knew before he came to SUNY Broome as an international student, he mused. Such as: speed limits are strictly enforced. He learned that lesson with the help of some traffic tickets.
“I have a car and I have heavy feet sometimes,” he said a little ruefully.