Not many students at Pasadena City College (PCC) can claim to have lived in four continents.
Nora Sfeir, a first year psychology major at PCC, moved to the United States this summer after 18 years abroad, in which she traveled the globe in a flight that would last her entire life. For years she had lived in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, with no actual place on Earth to call “home”.
Sfeir was born in France and lived there for six years.
“You have the city and so many things to do and see there, or you can go to the south by the riviera cities, or the countryside,” Sfeir said. “It’s just a beautiful country.”
When Sfeir was 2 years old, her family moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo for business reasons. The sizable country was where Sfeir first took interest in wildlife.
“I was way too young to remember anything, but all I do know, from home videos that no one ever needs to see, is that I was once chased by a stork … and I was traumatized for a year,” she said.
Her family eventually moved back to France after two years of traversing the Congo. Although she cannot recall the notable marking memories of her French childhood, the lasting benefit of living there was becoming fluent in the language and embracing the culture.
Five years later, Sfeir’s parents received new job offers, and the 9 year old had to bid France farewell. They packed their bags and embarked to the fun capital of the world: Dubai.
“Dubai is completely different from here,” Sfeir said. “I always say it’s a great place to go [on] vacation if you want to experience the whole ‘luxurious lifestyle’, but honestly it gets boring quickly.”
Everything that the Internet praises about Dubai, all of the wild, extravagant gatherings and performances and skyscrapers and malls, has been witnessed and confirmed firsthand by Sfeir.
“I know some people who have jaguars and animals like that as pets in their house, if not a whole mini-zoo,” Sfeir said. “Lots of parties are on yachts and in limos. On the weekends all you’ll see on the streets are luxurious cars. It’s a whole thing.”
After several years of living in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), Sfeir finally became knowledgeable with Arabic, making it her third fluent language alongside French and English. But she never went a day without speaking French, since Sfeir was placed into an education system with French speaking students. She compliments Dubai’s education as being the greatest way for her to transition from a foreign language to the common tongue of the Middle East.
Her schooling in Dubai was intensive, however she asserts that it was effective in shaping her as the person she is today. Unlike the United States, where schools can range from hundreds of students to thousands, the classroom setting in Dubai was much smaller and more personal.
“We all take the same classes, there’s no choosing, and we usually only have 25 to 35 people per grade,” Sfeir said. “We grow up together, travel together … and now we’re basically all family, so being away from them is very hard for me.”
Throughout her 18 years of hopping between countries, Sfeir occasionally flew to Los Angeles to visit her relatives. After living in both the United States and the U.A.E., Sfeir has come to think of the two countries as complete opposites.
“The thing about Dubai is that we don’t really have politics,” Sfeir said.
There is no voting of any kind in the Emirates. The nation is an absolute monarchy, ruled by a Sheikh, or king, who reigns until his passing.
“The rules are very strict, such as no PDA, no alcohol, and no drugs,” Sfeir said. “While it may sound restrictive, it does have its perks. Dubai is one of the safest cities in the world.”
Sfeir grew up in Dubai during the smartphone social media boom of the early 2010s, when apps like Instagram and Snapchat took off. As videos of Dubai began to, tourism increased. Laws pertaining to drinking and clubbing eventually loosened up, although the U.A.E. still has a stern hand on public displays of affection.
Compared to the U.A.E., the United States holds a significantly larger crime index and falls behind on the safety scale. All of the disheartening stories and statistics that Sfeir learned of before moving to Los Angeles made her to be cautious of suspicious behavior that may come her way.
“… Living here now, I feel like I’m in danger all the time. I can’t explain it,” Sfeir added. “But I’ll definitely get used to it once I stop being paranoid.”
Being skeptical is one of the many things that Sfeir has adapted to in the United States. The expat traveled all the way from Dubai to Pasadena for a decent education, which meant conforming to new standards.
Sfeir’s family has a history of attending PCC. Her American relatives, including her aunt and cousins, transferred from PCC. She has known for some time that it ranks among the best community colleges in the United States, and for a while she has been excited to experience an American education.
“I’m majoring in psychology. I’ve been interested in it for the past three years and I want to become a therapist in the future,” Sfeir said. “Since I’ve started here my psychology course is by far my favorite class so I know for sure that this is what I want to do with my life.”
Sfeir has explored the sundry of options as to which university she wants to attend, and has settled on transferring to University of California, Los Angeles.
But living in the United States is only temporary. Sfeir ultimately sees herself roving between foreign countries and using her knowledge of different languages, cultures, and a college degree to help her find work elsewhere.
“I’m not homesick,” Sfeir said. “Since I’ve lived in so many places and moved a lot I don’t really think of anywhere as ‘home’. I miss my family and friends sometimes, but it’s okay.”