Le Fer Hall

International Woods employees share their experiences

News | 11.23.2021

As part of International Education Week at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, a panel of faculty shared their passion for their home countries. The inspirational hour allowed those from all walks of life to share what they love most about their cultures — including the people and food.

The members of the international faculty panel pose after the event. Left to right: Hongtao Li, Ph.D., MBBS, Abe Tizaf, MLD, Leona Amaning, MA, Monica Baez-Holley ’00, Ph.D., and Suad Sakalli Gumus, Ph.D.

The week is a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education. Dee Reed ’08, associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, moderated the panel. She explained it was an opportunity to enrich the learning of our students and employees by sharing their experiences.

Members of the panel represented Turkey, Ecuador, Ghana, Morocco and China. They used the time to be vulnerable and open with the audience. Many spoke about how their journey posed challenges, but that it has made them who they are today.

“We are citizens of the globe — that’s the beauty of it,” Suad Sakalli Gumus, Ph.D., associate professor of education, said, “but also there’s a sad part.”

Gumus, from Turkey, arrived in the states the first time in early 2001. When 9/11 happened, she said it presented challenging times because people were so mad and took that anger out on those who looked different from them. Instead of backing down, she said she became strong.

Abe Tizaf, MLD, admission counselor and head men’s soccer coach, said the holy days just feel different here — but makes him appreciate his culture more. “We used to have 60 people around us [during the holidays],” he said.

When he arrived in America, with only five English words in his pocket, he said the language barrier was the hardest part. However, the churches here helped him learn English.

Although Hongtao Li, Ph.D., MBBS, said living abroad has made her want to learn more about her home culture. As an assistant professor of biology and a background in the medical field, she has deeper appreciation for the different types of teachings.

“I’m learning to compare the two systems,” Li said about Western and traditional Chinese medicine. “My passion is to learn about it.”

Agreeing with Gumus, adjunct instructor Leona Amaning, MA, said she had to work harder, but it made her stronger. Of Ghana, Amaning said through it all, she is glad to have grown in her journey. “It’s a huge challenge and you have to be a very strong person,” she said about having an accent.

Monica Baez-Holley ’00, Ph.D., associate professor of French and Spanish, came to the United States as an exchange student when she was 18. She attended North Vigo High School and decided to stay to continue her education at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

Being from Ecuador, she is very family oriented and missed them dearly, but was glad to have gained new family in the States.

“We came here for a better life, and the lifestyle,” Tizaf said. “This is the life I want.”

Other events hosted during International Education Week included a study abroad information table by the Career Center, a video featuring international students saying, “I love The Woods” in their native language and a movie night showing “In the Heights.” The week sponsored by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion promoted international education and cultural awareness.