Alumna studied literary representations of Arab migration in Latin America
Digital media continues to shape how we digest literature, but books will forever stay relevant as portals to other cultures, historical glances back at our shared past, and arguments for a better future.
Concepts that are familiar to recent Wayne State alumna Dr. Nour Seblini, MA ’15, PhD ’19, who conducted polyglottic research and analysis on literary representations of Arab migration in Latin America
“We are all familiar with recent images of Syria devastated by conflict and the massive waves of refugees that this crisis has provoked,” Seblini says. “What most people don’t know is that a similar crisis occurred over a century ago, and that back then the preferred destination for many immigrants was Latin America.”
Her dissertation focuses on contemporary novels, written by Latin American authors of Syrian origin who escaped Ottoman oppression, she says.
“Analyzing transnational Syrian immigrants through literature can broaden our understanding of the current Syrian refugee crisis, placing it in a wider historical and geographical context.”
The texts Seblini consulted to write her dissertation are unique in that they do not represent the West or the North as the center.
Instead, they “examine an important example of South-to-South migration that has not been sufficiently examined in Latin American studies,” says Dr. Victor Figueroa, professor and former chair of Seblini’s dissertation committee. “In addition to addressing the problem of Latin American Orientalism, [Seblini’s] work also tackles the issue of Occidentalism, the often distorted views of the West, whether positive or negative, held in Arab societies.”
Her dissertation critiques “Eurocentrism, which places the locus of rational subjectivity in the West,” Seblini says, “relegating other cultures around the globe to the status of exotic Others.” It invites us to stay open to possibilities of how to renegotiate identity and relational spaces time and again, as the world continues to become more transcultural, more globalized, she says.
It was at academic conferences that she discovered whether her theories “sunk or swam.” Her eagerness for constructive criticism ensured that she knew the strengths and weaknesses of her research early on.
Not to mention, she’s now “blessed with a worldwide network of connections with incredible scholars around the world.”
For now, familial responsibilities keep her close to home. As a GTA, Seblini taught Spanish. She hopes to continue teaching Spanish in the 2019-2020 academic term. But no matter what the future holds, she knows her PhD equipped her with invaluable specialized knowledge, applicable even outside academia.
Her advice for aspiring graduate students?
“Sheer tenacity makes a huge difference.” Have early discussions with your advisors about career goals. Be collaborative and recognize others’ contributions to your work. Finally, “Do not sacrifice your mental health for any reason!”