On a recent morning, Saleh Yacoub and several of his fellow students woke up early and headed to the Dining Hall kitchen – not to eat, but to share their culture with students.
It was International Cuisine Week at SUNY Broome, when members of the International Student Organization (ISO) plan, cook and serve dishes from their home countries. That Tuesday featured Africa, and recipes including gema, basbousa and sambusak – all of which a smiling Saleh encouraged his fellow Hornets to try.
Now in his senior year, the Engineering Science major hails from Darfur in Sudan. You can add “International Week chef” to his many roles here on campus through the years: co-president of ISO, Hornet soccer player in 2015 and 2016, computer lab worker, and peer tutor in the Learning Assistance Department.
His long-term goal is to build facilities for the deaf in his home country. His brother is deaf and didn’t have the opportunity to go to school until his early teens because of the lack of available educational institutions.
“The government doesn’t spend a lot on disabled people back home. I’d like to (build a school) where they could train more people to become teachers for the deaf,” Saleh said. “In the capital, there are only three schools for them.”
In the short term, he plans to focus on electrical engineering and is considering his transfer options. He has already been accepted to the Rochester Institute of Technology, but is also considering Cornell University, New York University or Boston University. There is, however, a bit of a catch.
He has family in New York; his father has lived in New York City for around 12 years, and his uncle lives here in the Binghamton area. Saleh learned about SUNY Broome from his uncle, and was impressed.
“It sounded like the best engineering program,” he said.
So he came over – with two of his brothers. (He has more siblings back home.) Saleh and his younger brother, who attends Binghamton High School, live in a house next to their uncle. His other brother attends the Rochester School of the Deaf.
For his transfer school, Saleh isn’t just looking for a great engineering education; he is also looking for an area where his brothers can succeed, too.
Although he’s fluent today, when he first arrived in the United States Saleh didn’t speak much English. He began his American education by attending English as a Second Language classes at the nearby American Civic Association, which also gave him needed insight into American culture. He started classes at SUNY Broome in Fall 2015.
The college’s ESL classes also helped him master the language – but so did the soccer team, which draws players from all over the world: Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and South America. (This year’s team alone includes players from Norway, Curacao, the United Kingdom and Venezuela, as well as New York City, in addition to the Southern Tier locals.)
Saleh was pleased by one difference between Sudanese schools and the United States: the ability to choose his own classes and course schedule. “Back home, they choose the schedule for you and you see the same people. Here, you see different people all the time,” he said.
He’s enjoying his experience in Engineering Science, and Professor Robert Lofthouse has been a ready and eager guide. Working as a tutor in math and occasionally Arabic also gives him the opportunity to interact with his fellow Hornets, improving his language skills.
“You never know; you may get the help back one day,” he said of tutoring.
Overall, he describes his experience at SUNY Broome as “unforgettable.” He also has noticed that more Sudanese people are enrolling in the college, which reflects SUNY Broome’s global reputation for strong academics.
“Everything that’s happening for me right now is because of SUNY Broome,” he said.