Schada Alkamari, a freshman studying international business is an international student who is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but is Muslim.
Now she attends BYU-Idaho where, according to the BYU-I website, more than 99 percent of students are Latter-day Saints, and three percent are international.
Some students at BYU-I come here even though it was not their original plan. For Schada Alkamari this was also true, but when she was placed in a Latter-day Saint family in Virgina five years ago, things changed. She came here on a study abroad program from Morocco.
According to the CIA World Factbook, Morocco is 99 percent Muslim, and the Latter-day Saint Church does not have a presence there, so living in Virginia was the beginning of Alkamari’s interaction with the Latter-day Saint faith.
Alkamari said that even though it’s a totally different religion, there are amazing similarities between the Mormon Church and Islam. The first week there, she was introduced to Latter-day Saint culture.
Alkamari said her curious nature caused her to go to church and mutual, and because she was there before school started, she also did a year of seminary.
“I wasn’t afraid of just going every day,” Alkamari said. “What I really loved about going to church and going to seminary in Virginia is that it didn’t conflict with any of my values.”
In fact, she said that the values of the Church made it easier for her to live the values of the structured life she had chosen. Her experience in Virginia led her to return to visit the United States, and her families there.
One summer when she was visiting, one of the families went to drop off a daughter at BYU. Alkamari joined them on the trip, and she said the experience changed her life plan.
“Believe it or not, I just had an ‘aha’ moment. I was standing there for two minutes in the middle of campus, and I just felt the Spirit. I mean, I just felt that that’s exactly where I want to be,” Alkamari said.
After visiting BYU campus, getting to BYU-I was not easy for her. She said that her father encouraged her to go wherever she wanted, but attending medical school in Montreal Canada, where she had previously lived with her brother, was her original plan.
Becoming an international student involves finding a way to take the SAT or ACT, proving that tuition will be paid, declaring sources of funding, and getting a F-1 student visa and whatever else the country a student is leaving requires.
According to www.internationalstudent.com 625 out of 20,687 people attending BYU-I are international students.
“And I have to say it’s not easy,” Alkamari said. “I’ve always remembered that feeling I had on campus that time and that really was my motor . . . I would just rely on that and keep going until I got here.”
Ballet was another influence in Alkamari’s life. She danced from age four till age 13. She was injured dancing, but said that dancing taught her other important skills in her life, like discipline, structure and competition.
These influences helped her to become an international student and are part of the reason that she appreciated the Latter-day Saint influence in Virginia.
“I’d chosen a life that was pretty structured, and having Mormon friends helped me maintain that structure,” Alkamari said.
Alkamari said that there are many misconceptions about Islam, but she does not mind dispelling them. She said that she has the feeling that she is an ambassador and that she has a duty to answer questions.
“I’ve traveled a lot, and I’ve met other people from other religions,” Alkamari said. “It makes sense to me that if it’s the Spirit, it can touch anyone in any religion.”
Alkamari said that BYU-I has allowed her to learn more about everything, even herself.
“I appreciate the religious part,” Alkamari said. “I like how the school incorporates religion in everything.”
Alkamari’s goals for the future include going into international politics and maybe joining the U.N.