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Selma Zaki is a second-year master’s candidate in Psychological Counseling in the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology. This past year, Selma and three other TC students—Charlotte Hamm, Nour Salem, and Lai la Salam—founded an initiative called In Fluency to explore the intersection of psychology and politics and examine the role of mental health professionals and other change agents within that intersection. On April 21st, In Fluency hosted their first event “Psychology Beyond Borders: Lessons from Sudan, Kashmir, Palestine, and Burma.” Co-sponsored by the Office of International Affairs (OIA), the panel featured a diverse cast of mental health experts and activists sharing their narratives about the extent to which the current political situation in their respective countries impacts citizens’ mental health.
In Fluency was born out of both a feeling of disconnect and a need to reconnect—to oneself, to the TC community, and to the outside world. For Selma, born in America and raised by Iraqi-Lebanese-Palestinian parents in Lebanon, this disconnect began when she moved to the United States to obtain her master’s degree. Like many newly matriculated students, upon arriving at TC, Selma experienced fear and a feeling of being out of place. Although she holds an American passport, she grew up in Lebanon so she felt like an international student, which ultimately led to feelings of isolation. “I felt frustrated—and I know a lot of people feel frustrated—but I was frustrated for a year and I’m usually someone who tries to translate that frustration into something, and I think that’s what I tried to do with In Fluency.”
It was these shared feelings of frustration and disconnection that brought Selma and the other co-founders of In Fluency together. “We wanted a name that was catchy and that captured the idea of understanding different cultures. […] When you’re fluent in a language, you can begin to understand the culture, so that’s where the name came from. When you’re fluent, you can influence, but only after you understand it.” Selma describes In Fluency as a space for understanding psychology on two levels—the individual and the big picture. In Fluency’s goal is to examine what is happening in other countries and what an individual can do to respond. “We’re talking about countries like Palestine, Kashmir, and Myanmar, where it’s not very easy to do anything.”
As she looks toward the future and her impending graduation in December 2017, Selma is working through the struggle that she says many international students face—does she invest herself in In Fluency at TC or does she redirect her attention back home? One thing that may sway her is whether or not In Fluency can initiate changes in the culture of the Psychology Counseling Program here at TC.
By: Melanie Cooke
Editors: Heidi Liu Banerjee & Blessing Nuga
Michelle YoungHwa Chang, M.S., Ed.M, is a second-year doctoral candidate studying under the supervision of Dr. Erika Levy in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. Their research team is piloting a treatment program for children with Cerebral Palsy that have developed dysarthria, difficult or unclear articulation of speech that is otherwise linguistically normal. Michelle is in the process of developing her thesis to expand this treatment to bilingual children.