From Japan to West Lafayette: Zainah Nayef Creates Community at Purdue

Meet Zainah Nayef. She was born in Michigan to two Arab immigrants who moved to America to attend university.

Meet Zainah Nayef. She was born in Michigan to two Arab immigrants who moved to America to attend university. Around the age of five, Zainah and her family moved to Japan where she lived until graduating from high school. When she was applying for college, she had friends who went to Purdue University and it was one of the few schools which directly admitted students into the business school. After careful consideration, she decided to make the leap to come back to the Midwest to study International Business and Marketing at Purdue.

Zainah’s choice to study International Marketing and Business was heavily influenced by growing up in a large, metropolitan area and from traveling to many different countries. (Fun fact: she has been to more than 30 countries!) She was drawn to the idea that business can be applied to any industry and you can pick what you’re passionate about along the way. She has always been fascinated by the fashion industry, so for Zainah, she sees business as a great opportunity to pursue that interest.

As a Senior, she has experienced all that Purdue has to offer. She will be graduating with her Bachelor’s of Science, a Certificate in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and a Certificate in Collaborative Leadership. Her certifications gave her hands-on experience with professors that were professionals and entrepreneurs. This experience helped her hone in on what she’s good at and what she enjoys: working with and talking to people. It was through these programs that she realized she wanted to go down the management path.

Along the way, Zainah has also had the opportunity to meet lots of inspiring people. As a part of her Certificate in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Zainah and her colleagues were invited to former President Mitch Daniels’ home for his Presidential Lecture Series. She was able to have conversations with entrepreneurs in the fashion industry which was exciting and further solidified her interest in fashion and business.

Outside of her ambitious coursework, Zainah is involved in academic extracurriculars. She is a teacher’s assistant for Introduction to Management, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee Head for Alpha Kappa Psi, and the Vice President of Communications and Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Women in Business.

Beyond academic excellency, Zainah is involved in student organizations that have helped her find a piece of home at Purdue.  This year, Zainah is the President  of the Japan Student Association (JSA) and it has been her mission to spread cultural awareness through social and educational events. She first became involved in the organization as a member in sophomore year and during her junior year, she was an Executive Board Member. She considers Japan her home, and being a part of JSA has helped her feel a sense of community and experience a taste of home. As an older member of JSA, Zainah is hoping to re-introduce events from pre-COVID times to the younger Executive Board, many of which weren’t around to see the organization’s events from before COVID. She is excited to see some of her favorite events return and to give the Board the tools to implement and expand.

One of Zainah’s favorite events is their annual mochi-pounding. This is their biggest event of the year, with more than 300 attendees. During this event, JSA welcomes everyone to use hammers and bowls to pound mochi. Attendees can then enjoy free mochi and toppings, and play games! Another event that she enjoys is their festival, Matsuri 祭り. This event is meant to echo traditional Japanese festivals with booths set up hosting games, foods, and snacks. She says that this event reminds her of festivals at home.

As an Asian American with a multicultural background, being a part of JSA helped Zainah feel embraced and understood by a community with similar backgrounds and experiences. In college and high school, many of her friends were half Japanese and half American, or lived in Japan but were from a different place. Because of that, she always struggled to put herself in a box, which she felt like many spaces asked of her, and she felt like a lot of the world didn’t know how to accept people from mixed backgrounds, seeking to simplify and categorize instead of understand.

With her Arab ethnicity, growing up in Japan, and being born in America, she didn’t fit perfectly in one category. “It’s not a bad thing, and in 20 years from now, I think that will be normal,” stipulates Zainah. During the transition period that she’s experiencing now, though, she sometimes feels torn between cultures. In Japan, she would say that she’s American, but in America, she would say she grew up in Japan because she doesn’t necessarily fully identify with being ‘American.’ Being a part of JSA gave Zainah her closest friends and empowered her with the confidence to excel.

Zainah established the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) branches in two organizations: Women in Business and Alpha Kappa Psi. Around the beginning of COVID, many organizations started creating and building DEI branches. At first it was difficult, without any foundation to rely on. She found herself wondering if she really was making any impact, but over the past few years she has seen how important DEI is in these two organizations.

In Women in Business, she coordinated and organized panels with speakers from each of the campus resource centers to share with organization members. In Alpha Kappa Psi, she enjoys bringing campus-wide and nation-wide resources to members. Some of the ways she does this is by sharing events from different student organizations, and planning panels and informational meetings with the campus cultural centers.

Reflecting on her four years at Purdue, Zainah says, “I wouldn’t change anything about my experience because everything that I did turned into this.”  She has accepted a full-time offer with PepsiCo in Sales Management upon graduating in May of 2023, and she can’t wait to see what the future holds.


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