Learning from fear

In 1996, Ann O’Connor, now  an adjunct  communication studies professor, began working at a hospital in a remote area of Saudi Arabia.

During her five years there, she adapted to the country by learning its language and customs.

She wore a burka, followed the Saudi customs set for women and made friends with the local populace.

She felt comfortable and at ease in her foreign home—until everything changed on Sept. 11, 2001.

O’Connor said as she watched the second Boeing 747 fly into the World Trade Center, her co-workers turned toward her with a look that made her “feel like a wounded cow in a shark tank.”

O’Connor sought out the hospital’s medical director, a man she had cared for while sick and whom she considered a friend.

Upon entering his office, the director jumped up and told O’Connor, “You deserve this.”

Fearing for her safety, she decided to hide in her home until the atmosphere returned to normal. But it never did.

O’Connor said living in Saudi Arabia was not the same after 9/11.

She was no longer accepted, and the locals took out their aggression on her. She lived in constant fear, had to be guarded by a security team and covered her face at all times when out in public.

Despite this nightmarish situation, she stayed in Saudi Arabia until 2004 when health problems forced her to leave.

O’Connor decided to study communications after leaving Saudi Arabia  in order to increase cultural understanding between people of different backgrounds, especially those in the Middle East.

Suzette Bryan was a faculty member at Southeastern Louisiana University where O’Connor was studying.

Bryan called O’Connor “fearless” and said O’Connor’s experience added to the richness of her personality, which gave her great insight into inter-cultural communications.

O’Connor later relocated to Indianapolis, where she began training troops being deployed to the Middle East about its culture.

O’Connor is now an adjunct professor at Ivy Tech and Butler University.

She brings her experiences into the classroom, especially when talking about conflict and diversity.

Freshman Jessi Sanders took speech for business with O’Connor.

Sanders said O’Connor used her experience in Saudi Arabia to demonstrate that speech is important in all facets of life, not just business.

Sanders also said O’Connor’s story taught her a lesson.

“No matter what your situation is, there is a way to get out of it, ” Sanders said.

O’Connor recounted her story by publishing a memoir titled “Being Madame Fatima” in January as a form of self-therapy. Her intention was to teach readers to keep fighting even in the darkest of times.

O’Connor said she plans to continue to bring her experiences to the classroom by teaching global women studies at Butler.

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