Female COMC Instructors Break International Barriers

By Rachel Blevins

Though the United States is still struggling with gender pay equality and lack of paid family leave, many international women have chosen to work and study here. The Texas Tech College of Media & Communication employs several instructors who have crossed cultural barriers to pursue unique career opportunities.

Sadia Cheema is originally from Lahore, Pakistan. Picture provided by the COMC.

Sadia Cheema is originally from Lahore, Pakistan. Picture provided by the COMC.

Sadia Cheema, a doctoral candidate and graduate instructor in the College of Media & Communication at Texas Tech University, described the U.S. as a completely different world compared to her home city, Lahore, Pakistan.

She is, however, disappointed that many people have misconceptions about her home country. Because of where she is from, people often expect her to dress a certain way and to have a certain set of religious beliefs.

“Lubbock is very conservative, and some people have the notions of ‘Oh you’re from Pakistan,’” Cheema said. “But what we see in the media are just chunks of places, which are very remote.”

She said some of the societal expectations here have led her to feel as though she had more freedom when she was in Pakistan.

“The questions of ‘What do you feel about terrorism and Osama Bin Laden? I was like, ‘He’s not my uncle. I didn’t know him!’” Cheema said. “Answering those questions is hard because I grew up in Pakistan and Osama Bin Laden was just another person who was talked about in the news. I knew what he was doing, of course, we knew about Al-Qaeda, we knew about ISIS, but the thing is that we never get involved maybe because it was just happening in real time.”

Cheema moved to the U.S. to further her education, and after earning a master’s degree from Stephen F. Austin State University, came to Texas Tech to pursue her doctorate. She said she is passionate about research, nonprofit organizations and user-generated content.

While her parents are still in Pakistan, Cheema said she has family living throughout the U.S. Before she moved to Texas, she lived in London for an exchange program while pursuing an MBA at the Lahore School of Economics.

Sun Lee is originally from Daejeon, South Korea. Picture provided by the COMC.

Sun Lee is originally from Daejeon, South Korea. Picture provided by the COMC.

Sun Lee, an assistant professor of public relations at Texas Tech, said she moved to the U.S. to pursue public relation opportunities in a new culture.

“A lot of people ask me about the cultural differences, but now with the younger generation in Korea, we don’t feel much of a cultural difference because things are westernized and we basically adopt a lot of cultures from here and Europe and other countries,” Lee said. “Korea is one of the most trendy countries in the world, so they’re very sensitive to what’s popular.”

After obtaining a master’s degree from the University of Georgia in Athens and a doctoral degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Lee came to Texas Tech to teach.

Lee said studying abroad was something she wanted to pursue as early as fifth grade, and if she had to do it over, she would make the same choices again. She said she would encourage current students to consider studying abroad and traveling to other countries to learn about diverse cultures.

“Meeting somebody from another country is a good way to learn or to open up students’ minds,” Lee said. “I believe that my own culture is going to be portrayed in my teaching style or in my stories I share in class.”

Lea Hellmueller, an assistant professor of journalism at Texas Tech, said she used to work at a popular TV station in her home of Bern, Switzerland, but after obtaining her master’s degree, she wanted the opportunity to travel.

Hellmueller moved to Cape Town, South Africa, to work for the Cape Times, and she said she found herself in a completely different culture, in terms of everything from journalistic freedom, to technological advancements, to her overall safety.

Lea Hellmueller is originally from Bern, Switzerland. Picture provided by the COMC.

Lea Hellmueller is originally from Bern, Switzerland. Picture provided by the COMC.

“Journalists have a lot less freedom in terms of what to cover, where to go,” Hellmueller said. “You can feel a lot more pressure from the editors, and the technology is nothing like it is here.”

Despite the differences, Hellmueller said it was very empowering to be a journalist in South Africa, and she was surprised by how much some of the community members looked up to her. However, she noted that over a hundred gangs plagued the area, and after her house was broken into twice, she decided it was time for another change.

Hellmueller said she then went back to Switzerland, where she started her doctorate because she was interested in international journalism and she wanted to learn more about research.

Hellmueller said she was offered a scholarship through a program with the U.S. State Department, and she came to the U.S. to finish her degree at the University of Missouri. Her research led to the publication of a book titled “The Washington, D.C .Media Corps in the 21st Century: The Source-Correspondent Relationship.”

Hellmueller said one of the things that stood out to her when she studied cultural communication as a master’s student was the idea that individuals often have trouble adapting to other cultures because they see their home culture as what is right.

“I studied how you go through culture shock and how you adapt, and how your home culture always looks better because you compare everything new that you experience to what you know should be the case,” Hellmueller said. “There is kind of a normative bias in there, [where] you think that how you grew up is how it’s supposed to be.”

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