I caught up with the new VP of Membership, Hanin Almoallim, to talk about Toastmasters, business, travel, brothers and more in this full-length interview.
D: So Hanin, you’re studying commerce- why is that?
H: Well, I've always been interested in business, because we have a family business back home, so I always heard my dad talk about it over lunch, things like that, so the interest kind of grows up with you.
D: Interesting! So where is your dad?
H: He’s back in Saudi Arabia.
D: Cool! So when did you end up in Vancouver?
H: Two years ago, I came to study at UBC, but I’ve been coming to Vancouver since I was a kid. My uncle used to live here for awhile, and when he came back home, my oldest sister started studying in Vancouver, so always visiting. Every summer.
D: Gotcha! So then, what’s your family like? How many siblings do you have?
"I was very much afraid of public speaking.."
"Are you still afraid?"
*laugh* "A little bit."
H: I have six. No, five! Three sisters and two brothers *laugh*.
D: Gotcha, and are they all back in Saudi Arabia? Are some of them here?
H: Yeah, they’re all back there, at some point everyone was here in Vancouver and I was all alone back there, but now that I’m here, they’re all back there!
D: Oh no!
H: Which is sad.
D: I'm sorry to hear that, so how did you end up in Toastmasters?
H: Well.. I don’t know, I was very much afraid of public speaking. I remember it was the second term of my first year, and I was going around the SUB during club days, and that’s when my friend said: “Hey I’ve heard of public speaking, look at that!”
D: Oh my, so they just decided to throw you in with the sharks!
H: *laugh* Yeah, so I took the meeting, and I went, and I still remember the first day that I went to the club- as usual Felipe was there, smiling, and greeted me, introduced himself, “Hi, I’m Felipe”, “Hi, I’m Hanin” and he was like, okay you can sit whatever you want, and I remember throughout the whole meeting I was so lost, like, I am just sitting right now, but what then?! Somehow I kept going, and I think now I’m addicted.
D: Gotcha, and can you remember what it was that made you want to keep going?
H: I think… it was mostly the people. You know, very supportive, very friendly, it’s just the atmosphere.
D: Yeah, it’s a good community. As you’ve progressed through Toastmasters, do you find that you’re still afraid of public speaking?
H: A little bit. *laugh* I can’t say that I’m over it, but I guess after doing that workshop, I’m much less afraid of it. Still, every now and then when I raise my hand in class, when I’m done talking, my hands still shake.
D: Gotcha, and for those who weren’t at the workshop, what was it?
H: It was an intensive evaluation workshop earlier this year, and I was the first speech of the day, giving a speech on how to evaluate speech delivery. It was at Vancouver Community College, and there were about 80 people in the audience, the area governor, a lot of distinguished toastmasters, and a lot of them were older, and some of them even had public speaking as a profession.
D: Wow, that would be intimidating, telling professionals how to do their job!
H: Yeah, but I think it went well! I always think that I could have done better, but i got a lot of good feedback from everyone.
"I'm going to go ahead and say; becoming independent."
D: That’s awesome! So when you’re not in Toastmasters or studying business, what do you like to do?
H: That’s an interesting question, I’m not sure.. I’ve been trying to get into some other clubs, but I haven’t found any other club that I really want to do. I really love reading. With all the school stuff I haven’t been doing a whole lot of that lately, but one of my favorite things to do is just to sit on the couch with a blanket and just read a book.
D: Same here. And what kind of books do you like to read?
H: *laugh* well, people usually look down on this, but the most books I’ve read happen to be romance novels.
D: *laugh* Okay, do you have a favorite author?
H: Definitely Nicholas Sparks, but suddenly I’ve found myself in the thriller genre.
D: Wow, that’s quite a jump! Though given some of the romance novels out there nowadays maybe not!
H: *laugh* I asked one of my friends for a recommendation, and she told me about this book, and I just fell in love with it. Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay.
D: And what’s it about?
H: Okay, so it’s about a guy, who’s schizophrenic, and his brother moves back in with him once their father dies to take care of him, and because he’s schizophrenic, he has this idea that the Vice President wants his help, and he wants him to memorize all the names of all the streets in the world.
D: Okay, that doesn’t sound too bad..
H: *laugh* well what happens is that while he is memorizing the streets, he sees this weird object in the window, and it looks like this woman getting strangled, and so he convinces his other brother to go check it out, and that’s where the story begins. And of course it ends up being this full-blown thing, and right until the last sentence, he just keeps.. surprising you. I think the thing that I loved most was the way that they make you believe something, they set the scene, and then it ends up being the complete opposite. It just makes you want to scream at it!
D: Like my physics textbook.
H: *laugh* I probably didn’t do the story justice, but it IS an interesting book. Trust Your Eyes.
D: Very cool. So tell me about your family! Where are you in the rankings?
H: Okay, so I am the fourth, so my oldest sister Doha is 25, my brother Mohammed is 23, my other sister Mai is 21, there’s me, 19, and then my other sister Revan is 18, and my little brother is 8 years old, and his name is Othman. He definitely has the most unique name, he’s named after my dad’s grandfather, so it’s a very big name.
D: Cool! And do you get along well with them? Do you fight a lot?
H: Well, I think we all get along well since we’re grown up, I mean, we still fight about wearing my clothes and taking my stuff, but it’s a lot better than when we were children. I think it’s just part of being in a big family, it’s so awesome. I can’t imagine not having sisters. There are downsides of big families, but I love them, which makes being here hard, because it’s so quiet all the time! And the privacy! Back home I never have any privacy, not at all.
D: *laugh* Gotcha. What has been some of the more challenging courses for you here at UBC?
H: Math, it’s definitely one of my lowest grades. I took it during my first semester of my first year, so I still had no idea what was going on, and no matter how hard I worked, or how much I prepped, I could just never get that grade. It was so hard. And it’s funny, thinking that I was kind of intimidated, thinking of finance as an option and NOT hating math.
D: Gotcha! Now that you’re a few years in, what are your thoughts on the school, academics, having balance?
H: Well, I’m definitely getting a lot closer to that balance I think, I mean, first year was so bad, all i did was study, so that kind of added on the stress, just going downhill, but now I just think, just do it! Procrastinating just makes things so much worse. And I still do it.
D: *laugh* Me too.. Hanin, in what ways do you think you have grown since coming here to UBC? What changes have you noticed about yourself?
H: Well, I’m not sure if I still have this quality, but people always used to describe me as very quiet, very shy, so I think I’m much less of that. And I’m going to go ahead and say becoming independent. Coming from a big family, someone was always doing things for you, and now I’m living here, doing everything for myself.
D: Cool! Do you have any idea what you want to do after you graduate, any goals you’re working towards?
H: My dad wants me to go back and work for the family company, which I think I’m going to end up doing, since that’s what got me interested in business in the first place, but I think I first want to go and get some work experience somewhere else in the world before settling down.
D: Very cool! So living elsewhere in the world. What’s something else on your bucket list?
H: Hmmm, bucket list. It keeps growing, since I never write it down, but I think one thing on my short term list is to go to a hockey game! I feel like that’s a very Canadian experience, which is something I really want to do, even though I have no idea how it’s played.
D: Well good on you for wanting to be immersed in the culture! What are some of the most prominent cultural differences you see between Canada and Saudi Arabia?
H: I would say the importance of family. Everything you do back home is with your family, that’s just how you’re raised. So when I see people here, a few years after high school, and they aren’t very connected to their family, that’s a big thing. Everyone should be connected to their family.
D: I totally agree. And what is one of your most distinct memories of being here at UBC?
H: Well, there’s one that I still remember, on my first day here, Imagine Day. I had no idea how public transit worked, and I was running to catch the bus because I’m afraid I’m going to be late for my first day, and I got on the wrong bus! I sat down and asked the guy sitting next to me: “What bus is this?” and he told me that it was the #16, and I was planning to take the #4 or the #14 to go straight to campus, so I started panicking, thinking, what am I going to do now? I hadn’t even gotten the easy part done when the guy next to me said, “Oh, I’m going to UBC, I can take you with me!” and I was just like “Oh great! Thank you!” I hadn’t been to Jumpstart, so this was literally my first time being on campus.
D: *laugh* Oh wow, that’s like a tsunami of information all at once.
H: Yeah, so this guy takes me, tells me how to get to campus, and I’ve been taking that route ever since. I don’t remember what he looked like, but I remember the last thing he said to me was: “I hope I see you again!” which i thought was a little strange at the time, but now I understand, because UBC is so huge! …I haven’t seen him again.
D: To return to our earlier question about hobbies, what are some of your broader interests that you want to develop?
H: Anything active. Just working out at the gym, which I’ll probably start doing this summer, just gets boring. I’d really like to try kickboxing, but I just have to find the time. Maybe this summer.
D: You could always come to Latin Dance Club!
H: I actually considered dancing! I navigated around some of the options, but I don’t know why I eventually decided against it, I’m not sure. One of the other things which I really want to do this summer is driving! I need to get my license. I have my learner’s license, but I have to get my full license. I’m so terrified of it, but my dad expects me to get it by the summer.
"So I end up having to cancel going to a place simply because no one can drive me, which is very frustrating"
D: Question, is it correct that women are not allowed driver’s licenses in Saudi Arabia?
H: Yeah, that’s true. women don’t drive in Saudi Arabia.
D: And how do you feel about that?
H: Definitely against it. I’ve always been against it, but because women don’t drive, drivers are very common, like, I have a driver back home, which is why public transit and going places on my own are such a big deal for me, because I’m just used to someone else driving me around all the time.
D: Gotcha. “Gerard! The mall!”
H: *laugh* Yeah, something like that.
D: Though I doubt his name is Gerard.
H: No *laugh* but I’m definitely against it. Not everyone can afford drivers, or have fathers or brothers to drive them around all the time, and especially now with women working and have their own jobs and all that, it is just so hard to maintain, so definitely against it. But when they do finally allow women to drive, I will definitely not drive.
D: Really? Then why are you going to get your driver’s license??
H: Oh, here I’ll drive, there I’m not going to drive. The streets are terrible, and people have terrible driving skills. They’d be on the far-right and make a left turn!
D: Maybe that’s why they need more women drivers? Women seem to be a civilizing influence.
H: True.. maybe. There’s also just unbelievable traffic, and people are a little bit crazy. I mean, we have driving problems even when I’m not driving, so I wouldn’t want to do that, no. I’d feel more safe being driven by someone else.
D: But you’d be okay with it here.
H: Yeah, here is okay, people follow the rules, the streets are well-designed, and you have traffic lights that people actually follow.
D: Interesting.. I’ve never thought about it like that, that even if you were allowed to drive, you wouldn’t want to. Most people seem to think that if women were allowed to drive, the women will just flock to the DMV. But if the infrastructure is poor, or people have bad driving habits, you don’t feel safe.
H: Yeah, and that’s just my opinion, other women are absolutely ready to drive. Because one of the bad things about not being able to drive, and having a driver, is that nothing goes your way. If I want to go out, I have to plan it a week earlier. With six people in the house who can’t drive themselves, and only two drivers, it just gets so complicated. Everyone has school, everyone has work, everyone has things they want to do and go to, so I end up having to cancel going to a place simply because no one can drive me, which is very frustrating.
D: Thats so unfair! That would be incredibly frustrating.
H: And that always happens. Which is one of the main reasons that people are upset about the fact that we can’t drive.
D: And you just want to go out! And the current situation would be enormously complicated, I mean, you’ve all got places to go, or at least, places you want to go.
H: Mmhm, back then, my sister and I needed to get to school, my other sister went to a different school since she lives with us half of the time, and half of the time with her dad, my older sister goes to college, my mom and my oldest sister go to work, my younger brother goes to school, and my older brother doesn`t drive us at all, just because he doesn`t want to, so there`s always that conflict, just not enough time.
D: Interesting.. Have you travelled very much, besides to Vancouver?
H: Yes, mostly to Vancouver, but I have been to Cairo once or twice, Dubai.. it’s beautiful there, very touristy. I’ve also been to Hong Kong, since that’s how we usually get to Vancouver. Best shopping place ever! I miss that. I kind of hold off all-year and then just go in Hong Kong in this neighborhood called Tsim Sha Tsui, it’s the greatest shopping experience ever. The currency is much, much cheaper, and they have a lot of great clothes, but one downside is that the sizes are different, so it can be a bit challenging to find something that fits.
D: “I’ll need a 4/3 size medium please”.
H: *laugh* totally. Me and my sisters were trying to convince my dad to spend the summer somewhere other than Vancouver, but he just doesn’t want to! He says, “I’ve been to a lot of places, nowhere is like Vancouver.” And I just keep telling him, “I haven’t been there, I want to go and come back and tell you that nowhere is like Vancouver!"
D: That’s awesome! Where would you like to travel?
H: I’ve been asking that question a lot, and there are so many places! Somewhere hot, not cold.
D: You can cross Manitoba off your list then!
H: *laugh* Even though my dad though my dad’s not very fond of the idea, I would love to go to India. I feel that they just have so much culture, and I remember that whenever my dad would go to India, he would come back and I would give him a hug to say welcome back, and he would have this smell of India, so I’d love to go there.
D: That would be so cool.
H: And I just love Bollywood movies! They always make you cry, and I’ve never watched a Bollywood movie without crying.
D: Oh man, and you just can’t beat Bollywood for action scenes. Michael Bay still has a thing or two to learn! Bollywood is hilarious.. Well thank you very much Hanin, I'm looking forward to having you on board for next year!
H: Thank you!
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