Exchange program life saver for Libyan student

By ALEXANDRA DUBIN/Montana State News

For Rania Ampntel-Chafint, coming to The United States was something she had always known she wanted to do. Born and raised in Benghazi, Libya, Rania is 21 years old and a whopping 5 feet tall. With short dark brown, beautiful, thick hair and piercing brown eyes, she remembers the first time she viewed the mountains when arriving in Bozeman, Montana. She will never forget her excitement as she stepped off the plane.

Rania was randomly assigned to study at Montana State University through a program called Middle Eastern Partnership Initiative (MEPI), a program for North African and Middle Eastern countries. MEPI assigns students to various universities throughout the U.S. to attend school.

In 2011, a revolution erupted in Libya. The president and his government were overthrown and the borders were opened. Three years later, ISIS established a strong presence in the country and turmoil ensued. Airports may as well have been bullseyes for bombs. Even the English Department of Rania’s university was bombed, leaving her nowhere to attend school at the time.

Rania knew in her heart she wanted to leave home so, study abroad was the best choice for her. She also knew that the U.S. had a better education system.

The stress evoked by discussing her home today, however, hardly reflects Rania’s childhood in Libya. Every summer, she and her family would travel to Greece to visit her grandparents, spending days at the beach. When she turned 10, other family matters took front row and the visits ceased for eight years, but she still cherishes the memories created with her now-deceased grandparents during these summers.

Rania also fondly recalls her carefree days in high school.

“The principle had all these rules and breaking them made me feel good she said”

One prank she’ll never forget involved fainting to the ground during a class she hated attending. Two friends then picked her up and whisked her away, one on each side of her. She got to miss class that day. In general, Rania felt high school was a waste of time, saying, “You’re given classes with no choice.”

Outside of high school, she enjoyed hanging out with friends. There were no cinemas, so seeing movies was not an option, and city life offered no opportunities for outdoor activities. Because of this, Rania and her friends would typically get together at restaurants or cafés.

Rania has established a great, solid group of friends since she has been in Bozeman.

“I met Rania because we worked together at the Office of International Programs here on the MSU campus,” said Mel Garros, a coworker turned friend. “I will say, that she has a great strong personality, she knows what she wants in this conflicted world and she is doing her best to get it.”

Back home, Rania’s father had strong morals and values. “Rania is very much like our father, sometimes stubborn.” According to Nadia Amptnel-Chafint, Rania’s sister. She believes that is why they would butt heads. He was strict, but they learned from it. Rania recalls him driving her to school in the mornings before he had to go to work. He would say, “If you’re not ready by 8 a.m. I’m leaving you and you can find your own way to school.”

Rania hasn’t always agreed with her parents’ parenting styles but, “I am who I am today because of them.” She said their father did everything out of love. That’s why Rania says her father has had the biggest impact on her life.

Though Rania regrets not having come to the U.S. sooner, her parents have a different opinion on the matter. Prior to her departure, Rania remembers frequent arguments with her parents about studying abroad. She recalls not talking to her father for a week due to the friction, but in the end, her parents had no say in the matter.

Rania’s parents are often judged for allowing her to relocate to the U.S., something Rania feels helpless towards. She wouldn’t care if she was judged, but it fills her with dismay when people judge her parents.

“Libya is not a moving culture,” says Rania, comparing it to the U.S. in the 1940’s. “No one leaves. You don’t leave your parents’ house until you are married.”

Since Rania’s parents still live in Benghazi, she continues to worry about her family’s safety. With the 12-hour time difference, it’s hard to always keep in contact, but she checks in weekly with her mom and dad. Every time she talks with her family, they ask when she is coming home and when she will graduate.

Right now Rania wishes she had more confidence and less fear clouding the future. She regrets doubting the things she wanted to do when she was younger. As a current sophomore at MSU, she feels behind. Worrying about the future is common for Rania because there is a lot at stake; it’s either get a job or go back home after graduation. She knows in her heart she is happier in the U.S. than she was in Libya.

“It’s a lot safer here. I can stay out late, I can go out alone, and I can walk places,” Rania says about Bozeman. In Libyan culture, a negative stigma surrounds traveling and living alone, so making the move to Bozeman was a big accomplishment for Rania. She knows that by traveling to the U.S. alone and continuing her education in Bozeman she is paving the way for others who also hope to make it on their own.

This olive-skinned beauty has big dreams for the future. Ultimately, she aspires to work for the United Nations. Until then she plans to either continue her education after obtaining her degree from MSU, or find a job completing research. She would love to settle in Seattle, Washington.

– Edited by Megan Ahern

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