Fatima Alhaj Salameh didn’t know anyone in the United States upon arriving in 2019, but she knew she had a strong desire to go to college. “Education is what makes me feel the most happy and most alive, and I always want to develop myself and keep going,” Fatima explains.
“I was by myself in this country and didn’t know where to start,” Fatima recalls. “I found Pellissippi State on Google, so I took an Uber to visit. Everyone I spoke to here was so helpful, even though I didn’t speak English very well at the time.” Fatima credits Patricia Higgins, former International Admissions specialist, and Sarah Davis, manager of Recruitment Services, for getting her prepared. “They gave me such a clear idea of what I needed to do to get started,” she says.
When the pandemic hit, Student Engagement and Leadership (SEAL) helped Fatima overcome her feelings of loneliness and isolation. “I was freaking out and completely depressed,” Fatima remembers. “I’m by myself, COVID-19 has shut everything down, so I stayed in my home for nearly two years alone.” Getting a job to work with students and working with former SEAL Director Matt Spraker, SEAL Administrative Assistant Monica Styles and SEAL Coordinator Delnita Evans gave Fatima a sense of belonging. “Monica always gives 100% and does her best for you, and Delnita lives for helping students and makes every event fun for them,” Fatima beams.
Fatima plans to go to UT and finish her pre-med requirements, then to dental school. “I want to travel the world and work as a pediatric dentist to help children with their teeth,” Fatima explains. “Some children in poorer countries do not have the smile they should have. I want to do what I can for my community, for the poor and for refugees. I’m going to work so hard to make our community healthy, and I want to be a role model to make all women in our country proud!”
As an official college graduate, Fatima offers this feedback to prospective international students: “The freedom and opportunity we have at this college is amazing. They work so hard to make you feel like you have a part here. Even if you are different, even if you don’t speak English, you will belong. We say here at Pellissippi State to ‘Start Strong, Stay Strong, Finish Strong.’ That is what they do. You are never just a number here; you are special!”
— Story and photo by Jessie Tipton, visual media coordinator for Pellissippi State