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