Opening new worlds

University Studies changed everything

Naureen Khan didn’t talk much about her cultural background in high school. 

She’s a first-generation American with parents from Pakistan and India. Her relatives live all over the world. But she thought of herself mainly as a suburban high school student who was president of the marketing club and considering a career in computer science or engineering. 

Her first year at Portland State University changed everything — her goals and how she tells her story. And she attributes University Studies, PSU’s award-winning, multidisciplinary learning experience, for that inspiration.

It all started in a year-long freshman course on globalization. As the child of immigrants, she was encouraged to share and write about her perspective on what it means to belong in a new country. 

At the same time, she formed an instant community with 36 classmates and a peer mentor who lived with her on the same floor of a residence hall. Together, they took up more space in the dining hall than the football team, visited cultural sites such as the Portland Mercado and continued their intense classroom discussions late at night.

“It taught me to share my story and to be more open about it,” she says. “I still have a pretty close bond with those friends, and I think it's because of that.”

She learned to see her heritage as an asset — and decided to turn it into a career. 

She switched her major to marketing with a minor in international economics and a certificate in international business. She hopes to use her cultural skills and experience to help global organizations understand and adapt to new places and people. 

“In University Studies, I was able to take my interest and passion for learning about other cultures and customs and apply it to my degree,” she says. 

Now she’s a peer mentor for other students in the University Studies program. She encourages them to tell their own stories and see other perspectives.

“If we can learn from each other’s differences,” she says, “the world might become a less divided place.” 


Homepage photo: Nelson Tan, Vanessa Tan and Naureen Khan

Story by Suzanne Pardington
Video by Kenny Katz, Evan Kirkley and Peter Simon