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Meet Rasha Baazeem

More than 11,000 miles separate ETSU senior Rasha Baazeem, 35, from family and friends at her home in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. However, Rasha, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene in ETSU’s College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences, says that she and her two children, ages 10 and 7, have found a welcoming community of faculty, neighbors and classmates in their temporary home in Johnson City.

After working for 10 years as a dental assistant in Saudi Arabia, Rasha came to ETSU because she wanted to expand her career opportunities in dental hygiene. Since moving to Johnson City, she has not only moved closer to that dream, but she has also realized another life goal – learning how to drive. Now, as president of ETSU’s Saudi Arabian Student Association, she enjoys encouraging and connecting other students so that they, too, will feel at home in the ETSU community.

Why did you choose the dental hygiene program at ETSU?

I started working when I was 22, and I didn’t waste any time. I’ve always been busy with work. I was a dental assistant for 10 years. Dental assistants mainly work with materials and instruments, and I know all of them. I felt like I needed to know more, and the only field that would help me is dental hygiene.

I am here with my two children; my daughter is 10 and my son is 7. If my kids see that I am struggling for my degree, they will see that this is an important thing, and they will not take it easy and they will not be careless about their schooling. The more they are seeing me struggling or working hard for my degree, the more they will understand that they can do the same. Always, parents want their kids to be better than them.  Rasha Baazeem

What has helped you adjust to life in the United States, and in particular, East Tennessee?

It was a little hard in the beginning since I needed help. It is getting easier with time. And it is easier because of the environment I am in. Being here in Johnson City with all these friendly people makes my experience much easier. The faculty have been so supportive and kind. My friends and neighbors have helped me when I need someone to watch or pick up my children.

On campus, I am president of the Saudi Arabian Student Association, and that helps me a lot knowing the people here and all of the services we have. Being in that group helps students be in a family environment, even though they’re away. We have big gatherings and celebrations since we are away from our families.

What is one of your proudest achievements since you have arrived at ETSU?

When I arrived here, one of the most difficult things I faced was that I was not driving, and I had not even tried to drive in Saudi Arabia. Since Johnson City is a smaller city, I felt like I needed to know how to drive. I found a lady to help me. I learned to drive from step one, and I got my license in six weeks. I was afraid at the beginning; it was hard. Now, I’m driving everywhere.

Just a few weeks ago, they celebrated that it was one year ago that women (in Saudi Arabia) were allowed to drive. And now, everyone is driving. When I go back after graduation, I will have almost five years of experience in driving. It will be easier for me to start my life there; I will not have to start at the beginning.

Now, I’m advising all of the ladies (from Saudi Arabia), even if they don’t need to drive, to go and just do it because it’s a smaller city, it’s quiet and it’s easier to learn. It will always be in my memory that my first driving lesson was in the United States.

What are your plans after you graduate in May 2020?

I have a job waiting for me in Saudi Arabia at the Saudi National Guard Hospital in Jeddah. I will be a dental hygienist there.

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