Maya Zreik is a first-year student in the Masters in International and Regional Studies (MIRS), specializing in Middle Eastern & North African Studies (MENAS). She is also pursuing a Master’s degree (MPH) in Health Behavior & Health Education (HBHE) from the School of Public Health (SPH). Read on to learn more about Maya’s studies. The interview has been slightly edited.

How did your undergraduate studies lead to your current matriculation?

I completed my undergraduate degrees in International Studies and Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience (BCN) here at U-M. The program at CMENAS is a continuation of my undergraduate degree; I now will focus solely on the Middle East. The courses for my BCN degree were focused on psychological health and the various factors that influence it, which made me interested in public health more broadly.

Why did you choose these fields of graduate study?

The Middle East has always been my primary area of interest, but I didn't have the option to pursue a regional focus in my undergrad degree. My favorite classes from undergrad were about post-colonial studies and Middle Eastern culture and history, now the focus of my program at CMENAS. I decided to also study HBHE because I have always had an interest in public health. Health trends in any country are important signifiers for many aspects of the political landscape, including social and economic inclinations. Understanding public health in the Middle East is important for gaining insight to the study of the region as a whole.

What are your foci in the two programs? 

My focus in my CMENAS degree is on post-colonial studies, memory and oral histories. I have a special interest in the Lebanese Civil War and the ways that it has been commemorated since its conclusion; I hope to do research on this topic when travel becomes possible again. In my MPH degree I am interested in health disparities and the effects of conflict on healthcare sectors.

Tell us about your experience as a student during COVID.

It has been challenging. It is hard to fully appreciate the topics that I am studying from a remote setting and it's also difficult to get to know my professors and colleagues like this. However, many of my instructors and advisors are doing everything they can to adapt to the changes and make the semester as normal for us as possible, which I am very thankful for.

How do you cope with the situation? 

Remembering my goal of obtaining my Masters’ degrees helps me get through these difficult times. Ultimately, I am pursuing these degrees because I have a passion for these topics and want to make a difference in my field, so it is helpful to keep in mind that, despite the unusual circumstances, I am learning valuable skills that will benefit me in the future. Since all of my classes are online, it has also helped to take up hobbies that are away from the computer.

What are your post-graduation plans? 

I am interested in jobs at NGOs that deal with human rights or health equity.