How UVA helped this student to unite his cultural identities

Hamza Belafia sometimes struggles to find a balance between his Moroccan heritage and American upbringing - but his time at the University of Virginia has helped to unite both sides of his background.

In short

Hamza Belafia - UVA McIntire School of Commerce

A multinational student in limbo between two different cultures

Having spent large parts of his life in both Morocco and the United States, Hamza Belafia is, as he puts it, “in limbo between two cultures.” While this gives him insights into the American and Arabic way of life, he sometimes struggles to fully identify with both cultures.

“Sometimes it’s hard for me to differentiate which side I strongly affiliate with” he tells MASTERGRADSCHOOLS. “I’d like to say I am a multinational student.” (02:56)

Despite his difficulties in embracing all aspects of his background, it doesn’t mean that Hamza is hiding from them. Quite the opposite. He takes equal pride in being both a Moroccan and an American.

“I guess you could say that I’m a student of two cultures, and I’m very proud of that.” (00:17)

Finding commonality in the UVA community

That fine balance between his Moroccan heritage and American upbringing continues to shape Hamza. He spent his undergraduate years at the University of Virginia, where he found a welcoming environment that allowed him to stay in touch with his Moroccan roots – while still acculturating into American society.

“Having grown up in Morocco, being a Muslim is a big part of who I am. UVA had several organizations that had students of Muslim background or of Arab descent. So I was able to join the multicultural organization and the Muslim student society, and through those I had the opportunity to meet so many people who were like me.” (05:27)

“UVA has afforded me the opportunity to connect with so many students that are like me and so many students that aren’t like me, so I’m able to maintain that balance between my culture from home and my culture here as an American and UVA student.” (04:01)

As a proud member of a university that has managed to bridge the connections between his two cultural identities, perhaps Hamza is simply a UVA student first and foremost.

Gaining new skills and preparing for your future career

Hamza’s international background influenced his choice of undergraduate degree. He studied Foreign Affairs and Spanish; a dual degree. In the latter part of his program, during a summer internship, Hamza started to become interested in the consulting industry.

“In my third year, after I had my initial internship with a small public affairs consulting firm, by the end of that summer I knew that (consulting) was what I wanted to do” he explains. (12:06)

Yet he knew that in order to break into consulting, he was going to need to acquire some new skills. He came across a master’s program at UVA McIntire School of Commerce which seemed to fit the bill.

“I looked more into the M.S. in Commerce program, as it’s geared towards students who didn’t come from a quantitative or business background….one thing I definitely lacked was this quantitative skill set and these hard skills which would prepare me for my future, as I’m interested in entering the management consulting realm.” (09:46)

Why going to UVA was the best decision of Hamza’s life

Although Hamza half-considered applying to other grad schools, deep down he knew he would stay on at UVA. His four years at undergraduate level had made a lasting impression on him.

“UVA offers such a unique experience, both socially and academically. You have this perfect balance of fun things to do in the Charlottesville area while also getting a world-class education. The multitude of programs that UVA offers…it’s endless, and you can essentially do whatever you would like to do.” (17:28)

Despite the fact that COVID-19 meant UVA’s graduation ceremony had to be postponed, it didn’t take away from the positive experience that Hamza has had – and will continue to have – at UVA.

“While I didn’t get to graduate in May or walk across The Lawn, I got this sense of fulfillment and that’s because I made the best decision of my life – and that was to go to UVA.” (19:20)

Share this article:
EADA Master