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Alumni Spotlight – Aniyah Mohammed

June 3, 2024

Aniyah Mohammed graduated from the University of Washington in 2020, studying Psychology, Communication, and Arabic. During her time at UW, she received two Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships from the Middle East Center and Global Studies Center. Two years after graduating, Aniyah was awarded an English Teaching Assistantship in the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, which brought her to the Kingdom of Bahrain. She is currently pursuing her Master of Education in School Counseling at Seattle University.

View from Aniyah's apartment

View from Aniyah’s apartment

Touching down in Bahrain in September 2022 was a surreal experience. As the plane descended, I marveled at the sight of the entire island stretched out beneath me, its coastline hugging the turquoise waters of the Persian Gulf. Despite being the smallest country in the Middle East, Bahrain had a rich culture and plenty of things to do, ensuring I never got bored.

During my time in Bahrain, I spent most of my time supporting seventy students in Year 0 of medical school at the Arabian Gulf University. My students were eighteen years old and from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Oman. I got along well with both my male and female students, helping them practice grammar, prepare for spelling tests, revise essays, make citations, work on presentations, practice speeches, and more. Every other week, I would sit with the class that had a lower level of English and be a TA for them. Even though I was primarily supporting English, I held math workshops too after seeing that my students were struggling in their math classes. Despite having zero medical background, I learned a lot alongside my students. They also taught me so much about their cultures, which they were incredibly proud of. My knowledge of Arabic, which I learned at UW, was helpful because my students felt closer to me knowing that I understood their language. Sometimes I could even translate words for them. However, I didn’t need to use Arabic much in my role—or even in the country as all the service workers knew English—which was a bit disappointing as I wanted to practice more.

As a Muslim, I found myself at ease in the Bahraini culture, as it closely aligned with my own values and beliefs. I was so delighted to order halal pepperoni pizza at the mall! Speaking of food, the cuisine in Bahrain was absolutely incredible, with dishes fromvarious cultures, including Thai, Indian, and Mexican. My favorite was “Al Baik,” a Saudi fast-food chicken brand. There were also many American brands, and I was surprised to find a “Seattle’s Best Coffee” in the mall!  At the many restaurants I would frequent, I would order shawarmas and hummus. I also enjoyed buying the sweetest sugary dates from the Bahraini Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning.

A beach in Bahrain

A beach in Bahrain

When I wasn’t working or indulging in the delicious food, one of my favorite things to do was visit the beaches and parks. I wouldeither visit local beaches or go to more touristy spots, depending on how far I decided to drive. I would buy a lemon-mint or pomegranate juice and sit by the waves reading Arabic children’s books. Going to the mall was also a popular activity. The malls in Bahrain are very big and a main attraction, and finding a parking spot on Thursday or Friday nights can be challenging. I also liked riding boats around the island for spectacular views of the skyscrapers.

Surrounded by water, it wasn’t very hard to find somewhere to live on the waterfront. I absolutely loved my apartment, which had great amenities, including a convenience store, multiple pools, a state-of-the-art gym, and was insanely affordable by Seattle standards. The first picture shows the view from my apartment. The dry and flat terrain of Bahrain contrasted greatly with the green, mountainous landscape of Seattle I was used to. The weather in Bahrain was also very different from Seattle’s. As someone who doesn’t enjoy rain, I was thrilled to find that I could count the number of times it rained during my stay on one hand! However, the locals had a different perspective—they would celebrate if three drops fell from the sky. Cloudy days were rare too. The weather was perfectly sunny and warm from mid-November to April, but after that, the heat became so intense that I wouldn’t advise going outside.

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity my Fulbright experience provided me, allowing for a profound cultural exchange in the Gulf region of the Middle East. Bahrain, a country often overlooked by many, truly deserves its spot on the map. Through my interactions with the students and the local community, I was able to challenge and reshape their perceptions of what it means to be and look American, fostering genuine and lasting connections along the way. As an aspiring school counselor, this experience has equipped me with the tools and understanding needed to be more culturally sensitive when working with Arab students.

I miss Bahrain and my sweet students dearly and hope to visit again in the near future!