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Married immigrant couple thriving in SCC’s drafting program

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Khitam Al Zaidi works with her husband, Kifah Aalshabeeb
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Al Zaidi and Aalshabeeb work together in the drafting lab.

Learning to speak a foreign language can be very difficult. Words have different meanings, sentence structure is different and pronunciation is varied. Math, however, remains consistent.

“We study computer-aided design drafting because its language has only lines and numbers, which is easy to understand,” said Kifah Aalshabeeb, a student in Southeast Community College’s Design & Drafting Technology program, and an Iraqi immigrant.

Kifah and his wife, Khitam Al Zaidi, moved to Lincoln four years ago from Baghdad, Iraq. They left the war-torn country and many family members behind for freedom in the United States.  

“It was terrible,” he said about life in Baghdad. “They can enter your house, take your money and kill you.”

Even though they love their native land, they had to leave because it’s simply no longer safe. Four of their five children are still in Iraq. They came to Lincoln because their oldest daughter moved here after marrying an American citizen.

“It’s complicated to live away from family members because of an unstable political country,” Kifah said.

“It’s peaceful here; no one can touch you,” Khitam said.

The couple sits together, side by side, in the CADD classroom at SCC’s Lincoln Campus. Kifah and Khitam are both good at math and have high grade-point averages. Instructors say they set a good example for the rest of the class.

“They are great students, they always ask questions and are very helpful to other students,” said Dave Zachek, one of their instructors.

“We help each other, and we support each other,” Kifah said.

In Iraq, Kifah worked as a supervisor for a production company and Khitam worked a knitting machine manufacturing clothing. She also was a volunteer math teacher at the local high school. While the couple continues to adapt to American culture, there are some things that are more difficult to get used to than others, such as the snow and the cold, and the perceived aloof manner of the younger American generation.

“If I meet you in my country, you will be my friend,” Khitam said. “I see people in the classroom and in the hallway and they don’t say anything.”

“If we had fellow students in our class, they would be our friends forever,” Kifah said.

Now they are meeting several people from many cultures, cultivating their garden, and Khitam volunteers at her grandson’s elementary school.

“Nebraska is a suitable place for family living,” Kifah said.

Charles Hildebrand teaches the Design Drafting Concepts class, one of the first courses the couple took at SCC. He said at first there were some language barriers and other issues, but the couple makes up for it by coming in early, asking lots of questions, and requesting more time during tests.

“You’ll see them more than other students, working on projects,” he said. “They’re here on time, their work ethic is better than any 18- or 19-year-old by far, and their math capability is unbelievable.”

“They want to learn, and they are sponges,” Zachek said. “They absorb everything.”

Khitam and Kifah hope to work in an engineering or architectural office in Lincoln once they complete the program. They would like to work together, though they know it might not be possible. If they don’t find a suitable job, they will pursue a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.

“An employer somewhere will be very lucky to get them,” Zachek pointed out.

“It’s hard, of course, to be in another culture, another environment,” Khitam said. “For me, it’s a place for dreams.” 

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For more information contact:
Andrea Gallagher
Marketing Specialist
402-323-3395
agallagher@southeast.edu