Hiba Benjeddou, from Morocco, is on her way to study engineering at Duke University — for free thank to her American scholarship. The Karsh Scholar will study mechanical engineering with a certificate in aerospace engineering and a minor in creative writing.
This fall semester, Benjeddou will get to experience life in the US as an international student — a 360-degree change of scenery to the remote village she spent her life in: Sidi Yahya El Gharb (population: 31,705). The fact that Moroccan unis don’t offer the option to study aerospace engineering was another reason why she wanted to head to Duke University.
All of this will be funded by her American scholarship, specifically, the Karsh International Scholars Programme. As a scholar, Benjeddou will receive eight semesters of full tuition, room and board — plus mandatory fees to Duke University paid for. Funding for domestic and international summer experiences is provided too.
We caught up with Benjeddou to learn more about how she won this American scholarship and what she’s looking forward to in the US:
Congratulations on winning The Karsh International Scholarship! What made you apply for this American scholarship? Any tips?
My journey as a Karsh scholar unexpectedly began with an email informing me that I’d been selected as a finalist. At the time, I didn’t know much about the programme — I felt confused and excited but I knew my world was about to change.
The full-merit scholarship doesn’t require an initial application as all international applicants to Duke University who are eligible for financial aid are considered. The selected finalists are then invited to participate in a scholar selection process that includes thoughtful essays and an interview.
The process might sound daunting but it really isn’t. I found it to be quite fun! I had the chance to write about my passion (aerospace engineering) in my essays, talk about Harry Potter, and the importance of community during my interview.
Although waiting for the results was nerve-wracking, it all paid off. When I got the email, I called my parents to tell them the news. It was too good to be true: the financial support, the distinguished network and community, and funding for research and internships.
Why choose Duke University and the US?
I’ve always been known as the “fun nerd” in high school. I would binge-watch all Veritasium and Numberphile videos in one evening, and make conversation with all sorts of people at events by the US embassies and school parties the next.
Since Duke University is known for its “Work Hard, Play Hard” culture, I knew it would give me the balance and freedom I want in addition to its stellar academics and distinguished faculty. The traditional college experience in the US was appealing to me in general but Duke University stood out to me the most.
Do you think it would make a difference if you studied at a local institution?
I spent most of my life in Sidi Yahya El Gharb, a remote village in Morocco. I experienced first-hand what it’s like to have your academic plans cut short because of limited resources and support which I then later realised is a recurrent theme in Moroccan institutions.
Unis in Morocco, specifically engineering schools, don’t offer the option to major in aerospace engineering which is my preferred course of study. The education is also strictly limited to STEM subjects which are unfit for someone like me.
I want to explore other fields of study such as creative writing and political science. The most important thing I would miss out on if I pursued a local education is the diversity of worldviews, perspectives and cultures.
Being an international student at Duke University is an opportunity to connect with a variety of people from all over the world and learn from their experiences. I want to be in an environment that encourages growth and escaping one’s comfort zone which isn’t something I’d find at a Moroccan school.
What are some cultural things you’re looking forward to doing in the US?
I can’t wait to try new foods. During my last trip to the US, I had the chance to eat at different international restaurants in Washington DC and I loved it. I’ve only eaten Moroccan dishes before and now I can’t wait to diversify the list of my favourite foods. Especially since I will be living in Durham, known for its variety of restaurants and shops.
As a Karsh scholar, what are your academic goals?
I strive to be both a problem-solver and storyteller. I want to work on thrilling engineering projects by day and write whimsical fantasy novels by night.
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I find solace in creating and building. I hope to assist professors in projects investigating a diverse range of aerospace problems, specifically the development of safer and more efficient airframes and turbomachinery.
I also wish to hone my creative writing skills as my plans include publishing a sci-fi novel that conveys my love for engineering, physics and space exploration. On top of that, I hope to learn a new foreign language and keep up with the five I know.
What do you plan to do after graduating?
As of now, I have no concrete plans concerning my postgraduate studies. I’m torn between applying to graduate school to pursue mechanical or aerospace engineering or jumping straight into the job market. Both paths are challenging but staying in school seems pleasant for an academia-obsessed person like me.
What advice do you have for students looking to apply for scholarships?
First and foremost, present yourself as the ideal candidate for Duke University. It’s already extremely competitive to get into the school itself but if you do manage to get selected for its prestigious scholarships, make sure to do your research.
Visit the school’s scholarship website, talk to previous winners, read about their experiences and try to incorporate what they’re looking for in your essays and interview answers. Know your audience and don’t be afraid to think outside the box.
Is there something from home you think you’ll miss?
I think I’ll miss my friends and family the most. Throughout my college application journey, they offered me help and encouragement — I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.
A good support system makes you thrive and although I can’t substitute the people I care about back home, I surely can recreate that sense of community and belonging as a dedicated and proud “Blue Devil”.