A Kabyle Berber from Algeria, North Africa, Ibtissem came to Fargo as a Fulbright scholar, getting her Ph.D. at North Dakota State University. As a project coordinator for the World in FM, she works to show the diversity and cultures coming together throughout the Fargo-Moorhead community. Though soft-spoken, Ibtissem has a lot of things to say about her many positive experiences and the surprising smiles of everyone she meets.
What surprised you the most about Fargo?
It was welcoming, but it takes some time to get used to the cultural orientation – people smile at strangers here. I kept wondering why they were smiling at me – are you in my class, do I know you? I wasn’t used to people I didn’t know smiling and saying “hi.”
What did you know about Fargo before moving here?
My brother had visited here when picking an education program and recommended NDSU. Otherwise the U.S. ambassador just wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting into and warned me about how cold it was “up there.”
What’s your favorite discovery about Fargo?
How tight-knit the community is and how many people know each other. It’s big enough so you would not expect people to be so close. The people here are very welcoming to diversity – very inclusive. I enjoy being a part of organizing inclusive events that drive progress to make life better for everyone.
I also appreciate all the things to do and being outdoors. I’ve gone tubing in Detroit Lakes, and I love Zorbaz and sitting by the water. Downtown Fargo is great with the Red River Market and places to hang out with friends.
What’s the one thing you wish Fargo had?
A lake and better temperatures in the winter! The culture of winter here is good – hot drinks and food – but I don’t like going outside in the cold.
What do you find weird about Fargo or the people?
Sauerkraut – it’s good, but weird! So much of “Fargo Food” is actually ethnic food – usually when I go out to eat it’s fast food or a lot of the ethnic food restaurants.
What’s the funniest question you’ve had from friends and family about living in Fargo?
They basically think it’s Canada and don’t know much about it. Their reference is to big U.S. cities, so Chicago is the closest thing they know.
What would you say to others considering a move to Fargo?
It’s true that it’s cold, so be ready – but I love it! Fargo is community-oriented, safe and growing. The people here are friendly and nice – very tight-knit but there are opportunities to grow, learn and be a part of it.