UHCL prof knows 'culture shock' firsthand, offers support to others
Although globalization is making the world smaller, leaving one’s country and culture for another can cause immigrants to feel isolated and depressed. It’s not easy to assimilate, and although there are barriers hindering Arabs from successful integration into American society, there is plenty of reason to hope for a positive new start in life with the help and support of those who have overcome the same challenges.
Faiza Zalila, associate professor of Decision Sciences in the College of Business at University of Houston-Clear Lake, is native to Tunisia and knows firsthand what it is to feel a deep sense of culture shock.
“This is why I became active in the Arab American Cultural and Community Center in Houston,” Zalila said. “I wanted to be part of the organization’s mission, which is to help serve the Arab-American community as well as the community at large. People who are new to us need help with assimilating and integrating into everyday life here.”
She said that upon entering the U.S., her own culture shock was significant and she knew it was important to help people integrate into the local culture. “From a practical point of view, the organization wants to help Arabs engage with their community and feel like Americans,” she said. “We encourage people to get involved in elections and we have done cultural competency workshops in Houston Independent School District and with the Houston Police Department, to help the schools learn why certain behavioral issues are happening with Arab students and how to deal with them, and how the police can interact more positively with Arabs as well.”
But her passion, Zalila said, is education. Formerly the organization’s president, Zalila said she’s now chairman of its education committee.
“We have a Saturday Arab language school with about 50 students with varying levels of Arab skills,” she said. “I think this is where I am using myself as a resource for others—sitting with teachers, developing the curriculum for the school and the syllabus for the classes, and training teachers on lesson planning and choice of books.”
As for her background in business, Zalila said she has applied her knowledge of strategic planning and employed the Strength, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) Analysis that all businesses use to improve the school’s operation. “My background teaches me to manage by facts and data, so we revised our mission and goals and became better at serving our community,” she said.
“The whole program is to show Arabs new to Houston the good side of being here and encouraging them not to dwell on being a refugee or an immigrant,” she continued. “We help them see the positives, work on cultural competencies, and learn to assimilate into everyday life instead of feeling badly about being displaced from home.”
Zalila said exposure to different cultures enriches everyone. “Particularly because of politics, there are misunderstandings about who we are,” she said. “I want to serve as a bridge between Arabs and the community, and share our beautiful heritage and history with people around us.”
Note: This story was first published in March 2022.