Emma Lohman – Staff Writer
A senior international student from Islamabad, Pakistan, Aimen Zara is a long way from home, and that’s just what she wanted when she applied to Gustavus.
“I wanted to go and learn on my own how to be independent. I applied to the places that were literally the furthest away from home, and Minnesota seemed far enough. And my brother went here. He always had good things to say about Gustavus,” Zara said.
Zara is pursuing an international management major with a strategic communication minor and has been instrumental in introducing Gustavus students to new cultures through her roles in various student organizations. Zara serves as Co-Chair of the Diversity Leadership Council, the Co-President of the Muslim Student Association and the Crossroads Program Coordinator for Residential Life in the International Center. She was also the International Student Representative for Student Senate last year. The organizations that Zara is involved in reflect her passion for creating and ensuring equity.
Abbey Lane, Area Coordinator for Residential Life, has worked closely with Zara in the Crossroads program. Crossroads is a welcoming and inclusive community where domestic and international students come together to learn about different cultures, religions and traditions.
“[Zara] is the first Crossroads Collegiate Fellow hired specifically for the program. Her passion for providing enriching experiences to her peers has helped Crossroads continue its mission despite the challenges presented by the pandemic. Aimen is helping cement the successful future of this program by working to define the community and create a structure for future Crossroads CFs to use as the program grows,” Lane said.
Although Zara has adjusted well to Gustavus, she experienced a lot of culture shock when she first arrived, and she still struggles with calling professors by their first name because Pakistanis are taught not to call their elders by their first name as a sign of respect.
“When professors are like ‘Oh just call me Patty’ or ‘Call me Tom,’ I’m dying inside. I hold professors in a very high regard, and I think that’s really paid off because when professors see that respect that you give them, they also reciprocate that same respect to you,” Zara said.
One of Zara’s favorite professors during her time at Gustavus has been Patty English, Associate Professor in Communication Studies.
“[Zara] was a student in many of my courses over the last three years. In every course, she was an engaged and curious student. Many of the topics we discussed in class were so applicable to [Zara’s] experience that we developed a close relationship through our extended conversations about culture and communication in my office after class. [Zara] is a joy as a student and person,” English said.
One of Zara’s favorite memories from Gustavus happened her sophomore year when she was a Collegiate Fellow in Norelius.
“When the year was ending, some of my residents reached out and told me that I was one of the reasons that they chose to stay at Gustavus after their first year because they had struggled a lot, but I had played a role in making their time here nicer. To me, that felt so nice because that was one of the reasons why I wanted to be a CF, to help people and make their experiences here better,” Zara said.
Zara encourages younger students to set goals for themselves for each year.
“My first year my goal was literally just to get acquainted with college and learn how things are. My second year I slowly started getting involved in things that I liked, because the first year I had seen what I might enjoy. And then your junior year is when you want to start thinking about after graduation…Junior year I started looking at grad schools that I wanted to go to and looking at their requirements,” Zara said.
Zara advises students to start looking for internships during their junior year as well. She interned at Pakistan International Airlines in the Human Resources department and the Marketing department. She was also the Marketing Analysis intern for the Gustavus Library. In her role, she helped with the accessibility of the library’s website and did comparative analysis with other similar institutions.
After graduation, Zara plans to attend graduate school in the United States for Marketing/Public Relations. She is grateful that her Gustavus education has helped her to envision her future.
“I went from being a person who had no idea why I had come to college to knowing exactly where I want to be in ten years,” Zara said.