From International Student to Young Female Artist of the Year

Nidal Ibourk was recently awarded the Young Female Artist of the Year from Morocco World News. Read her experiences as an International student, transitioning from a rural campus in Ohio to an urban campus in Chicago, and how she keeps a positive attitude despite the unexpected realities of life after gradation.

Nidal Ibourk is from Morocco and graduated from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio in 2008 with a Bachelor’s in organizational communication. She then earned her Master’s in human resources development at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, Illinois in 2011.

From Morocco to America, Making It as a Student

Nidal always had the dream of studying in the United States. It just wasn’t financially possible. But one day, it all changed.

“The English department had a scholarship similar to a Fulbright scholarship,” Nidal explained. “I already earned a degree in English studies, but I wanted to study in the U.S. Only 15 students were selected [for the scholarship].”

And Nidal was one of the 15.

The students were divided into different groups and each group was sent to a different state and a different university. Nidal’s group was sent to Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.

“My credits from my bachelor’s degree transferred, so I was able to earn another bachelor’s degree at Kent State in two years, instead of four,” Nidal said. “The scholarship covered everything, tuition, the residence hall and food.”

Nidal isn’t new to traveling and knowing about different cultures. She felt comfortable with American culture and knew about current events in the country. But transitioning from a Moroccan classroom to an American classroom was not as smooth as expected.

Nidal receiving a top scholar award at Kent State in 2007. Photo courtesy

“The only challenge I had was getting used to the education system,” Nidal laughed. “All my papers had to be typed! During class there was a lot of slang and everyone talked fast, so I just had to absorb everything fast. I felt my brain was going to explode. Everything was new.”

Nidal was determined to make it through and was able to come up with a simple solution.

“What helped was asking questions. I would ask questions and sometimes people would laugh, but I didn’t care. Asking questions and participating helped.I always sat in the front row because I wanted the professors to know who I was. After class I talked to the professor and asked if there was anything to do to help my grade.”

This was also the first time Nidal lived on campus as well. She said to get the full American experience, students have to stay in the dorms.

“My first roommate was African American,” Nidal explained. ” I recommend to have the full American experience you have to live in the dorms. It helps a lot more. When you live in an apartment you feel like any other person paying the rent, just thinking about bills. In the dorms you don’t.”

Many students find dorms to be noisy and are scared they won’t be able to study, but Nidal didn’t have a problem. It really depends on what kind of dorm you’re living in.

“I’m kind of a nerd, so I would go straight to my room and study,” Nidal laughed. “I had a full scholarship and had to keep a good GPA. My first year I was in a predominately freshmen hall and then moved to an upperclassmen hall.The first year hall everyone is fresh out of high school and more interested in socializing. In the other hall my last year I was focusing on classes. But the resident assistant was a cool guy and activities were always going on.”

Nidal also made time to participate in student organizations and even helped plan an International party.

“It helped introduce American students to different cultures,” Nidal explained. “There were about 150 to 200 in attendance. There was a lot of dancing!”

Kent State University is located in Kent, Ohio. Currently enrolls more than 36,000 students. Kent is about six hours away from Chicago.

 Moving to Chicago

After graduating from Kent State University Nidal went to Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago for her Master’s. Northeastern was smaller compared to Kent State and had a population of about 300 International students. It didn’t have residence halls, so Nidal said she couldn’t get that same full American college experience like she previously did at Kent State.

She was able to manage, however, by getting involved.

“I did what I could to help other International students,” Nidal said.

And being in Chicago was able to offer something Nidal couldn’t get in Ohio.

“There are so many more opportunities in Chicago and you can learn different cultures,” Nidal said with excitement. “I am very involved in music so there are a lot of different musical groups. Being in a big city helps a lot when understanding culture.”

But Nidal said you have to count in the higher cost of living and not everyone is going to stop and say hello.

“In a small city [like Kent] International students get the suburban feel and people are nicer,” Nidal said. “During the first month in Chicago I said people were so rude! In Ohio everyone would say hi, in Chicago everyone is rushing.”

It doesn’t matter if an International student in studying at a suburban campus in Ohio or in the hussle and bussle of Chicago, Nidal said to make it, you have to stay true to yourself.

“There are bad and good distractions,” Nidal explained. “Sit down, have a one on one talk with yourself and ask ‘What am I here for?’ I’m here for school. Stay grounded and stay true to yourself. Stay true to your cultural values and try to open up your mind even if people disagree with you. Try to understand why they have that perspective.”

photo courtesy: Morocco World News

Life After Graduation and on OPT

Many International students who graduate from a U.S. institution or at least been pursuing a degree for nine months and want to gain work experience in America, are far too familiar with OPT (Optional Practical Training).OPT is a chance for students on a F-1 status to work at most one year without needing a H-1B working visa. If a student is studying toward certain fields in science, OPT can be extended up to 29 months. This is supposed to help students gain actual work experience.

Right now Nidal is on OPT.

“I would recommend students do OPT and not expect a lot,” Nidal explained. “The experience is good, but because of the economy to employers it’s not worth having a person just for one year. They would rather go with an American, not a foreigner. And if you can’t find a job on OPT right away you can get three months of unemployment, but that leaves seven to nine months of work and who wants to hire someone just for seven or nine months?”

What adds more salt to the wound, in order to get a job under OPT you need previous experience just like any other job. As an International student you are only permitted to work on campus.

“Most on-campus jobs are administrative jobs or flipping burgers,” Nidal said. “Regulations won’t allow you to work off campus, so it’s hard to get experience in your field of study. I’m sharing my opinion, it’s almost not giving you what they promised. I’m lucky enough I had a graduate assistantship that I would do projects related to my major, but others weren’t that lucky.

Nidal shared advice for other International students when it comes to making the most of the OPT experience. She suggested students on OPT volunteer at companies related to their majors/areas of work. This way a student can get his/her”foot in the door” and it’s a chance to show skills and work ethic.

“Personal connections help,” Nidal explained. “I volunteer and perform. I travel to Las Vegas, Detroit, New York City and Washington DC. I’m trying to remain optimistic. I want to do a PhD eventually, but when the time is right.”

Update January 7, 2012:

Nidal currently works as an employment specialist for a non-profit organization in Chicago.  She has concerts planned in the following months and working on two major music projects.

[ilink url=”″]Read the feature article about Nidal in Morocco World News[/ilink]

[ilink url=””]Learn more about Nidal’s life as an artist[/ilink]

Watch Nidal’s performance in Las Vegas in Fall 2011.

Print Friendly