- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - New graduates face many different challenges, but few will face realities more stark than USI student Shan Sherwan Hussein.

The 25-year-old will return to Iraq, a country that is at war and has limited opportunities for women.

“In the beginning of the war, we really didn’t get affected that much. It was very peaceful. We basically got a good piece out of the whole thing - we got some democracy,” she said. “But right now with what’s going on with ISIS, it’s more impactful on the Kurdish region.”

Hussein is from Sulaymaniyah, a city in Kurdistan. The region struggled in the early 1990s when Saddam Hussein cut off its resources, but Shan Sherwan Hussein said the region has done fairly well since the invasion in 2003.

While the infamous dictator is gone, Hussein said the region is facing turmoil again. She said she isn’t confident that democracy will prevail as the dominant form of government or that opportunities for women will increase quickly.

She is concerned about the region’s economic state, as well as a possible conflict with Turkey.

“Right now, the economical struggle is hitting again,” she said. “There is poverty coming back.”

Hussein, who is Kurdish, said she is thankful the U.S. stepped in and took down Iraq’s dictator. Her parents fought against Saddam Hussein for 10 years. Her mother has written a book about the Kurds who lived in the mountains and fought against the Iraqi military.

“Saddam Hussein did a lot to my family,” she said. “The U.S. coming into Iraq was a gift to the Kurds.”

She said Saddam Hussein tried to erase the Kurds’ identity.

The 2015 University of Southern Indiana graduate will leave the U.S. this month to return to her home country. Hussein has been at USI for the past three years on a scholarship and has earned an undergraduate degree in economics and a Master of Business Administration.

She also has an undergraduate degree in engineering that she earned in Iraq.

In 2010, Hussein came to USI through a monthlong program called the Iraqi Young Leaders, which brought 50 Iraqi students to Evansville. After the program, USI offered two scholarships, and Hussein was chosen.

“It was wonderful. I wasn’t expecting that,” she said. “It was competitive. We were all good students.”

Although she never dreamed of attending college in the U.S., she was ready for the opportunity and had no hang ups about leaving her home. Hussein’s mother, Rwkhosh, was supportive, but her father had his reservations about it.

Rwkhosh is an art teacher and a writer. Hussein said her mother is responsible for persuading her father to allow her to attend USI.

“My mom is an exceptional woman. Not very daughter is lucky enough to have a mother like her,” Hussein said.

After Hussein’s trip to USI in 2010, she knew she was coming back to friendly, supportive people.

“I’ve been really lucky to know many good people,” Hussein said.

One of the people Hussein credits with helping her succeed is Assistant Provost for International Programs and Services Heidi Gregori-Gahan, who met Hussein during her trip in 2010.

“She’s amazing,” Gregori-Gahan said. “I’m privileged to know a lot of people like that, but Shan is one of the special ones.”

Gregori-Gahan said she was the first person from USI who met Hussein. The assistant provost drove to Washington, D.C., to pick up the students, and she still remembers her first impression of Hussein.

“I was so moved by my conversation with her because she was telling what she had in terms of dreams for her life and she was so passionate - just so driven by her goal to help women in Iraq,” Gregori-Gahan said.

She said Hussein has inspired her to develop a leadership workshop for international women at USI. The workshops have led to the development of a student organization called Kesho, which means “tomorrow” in Swahili. Hussein serves as the club’s president.

Hussein would like to bring her family to the U.S. but doesn’t see it as realistic. Her mother would like to live in the U.S., but Hussein’s father, Sherwan, doesn’t want to leave his homeland.

“My father is old-fashioned. I don’t think he would be comfortable leaving everything he’s worked his whole life for,” Hussein said.

Hussein would like to earn her doctorate and teach as an adjunct at The American University of Iraq in her region. She said she will miss not only the security in the U.S. but also people she has met.

“I wake up and I say ‘Wow, these people should really appreciate their country. They should really enjoy what they have,’” Hussein said. “Because you wake up and you know everything is going to be where you left it.”

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Source: Evansville Courier & Press, https://bit.ly/1KC7jTX

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Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, https://www.courierpress.com

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