Finding home away from home

International siblings thrive at the University of Cincinnati

Navigating life at university is difficult for any college student, but those common challenges are magnified for international students, who also contend with language barriers and cultural differences along the way.

Two pairs of international student siblings at the University of Cincinnati—Hamza and Anas Khairy as well as Khwahish and Kartavya Singh—decided to pursue their degrees side by side. While some siblings might scoff at the idea, the Khairys and Singhs have built a home away from home at UC and are thankful to have each other.

Together, they have navigated the adventures of university life abroad and, for the Khairys, they have inspired future family members to come to Cincinnati.

The Khairys 

Hamza Khairy and Anas Khairy stand together and pose for the photo in a park, you can see a city skyline behind them

Hamza Khairy and Anas Khairy in New York City | Photo provided

Fifth-year computer engineering student Hamza Khairy was born and raised in Egypt before his family moved to Saudi Arabia where younger brother Anas Khairy was born. Anas, a second-year cybersecurity engineering student is two years younger than his brother, and when Hamza ultimately decided to attend college at the University of Cincinnati (UC), Anas was not far behind. 

Hamza and Anas grew up in Saudi Arabia along with two younger sisters. Their father worked full-time, and their mother stayed at home to raise the family. 

When it was time for Hamza to expand his education, he considered universities from all over the world, with his top picks being in the U.S., China and Canada. He knew that going to a university in a different country would give him a unique experience, but needed to decide which opportunity was best for him. 

Hamza created an Excel spreadsheet with all the universities he was admitted to and sorted them first by minimum and maximum cost.  Between UC’s offered scholarship and world-renowned co-op program, he was able to narrow down his choice quickly. 

Like many other international students, it was hard for Hamza to leave family behind. 

Having someone in the United States before coming was a great thing, it’s one of the most important things that changed my experience.

Anas Khairy, second-year cybersecurity engineering student

"We never stopped talking to each other or distanced ourselves because we were in each other’s faces all the time,” Hamza said. He called back home regularly and told his brother about UC’s global community, vibrant student organizations and real-world experiences outside of the traditional classroom. 

Anas was planning on attending college locally, but Hamza’s positive reviews changed his mind. 

 “Friends had told me that they weren’t experiencing as much engagement at their universities,” Anas said, “so I’m glad I ended up here at UC.” 

Anas Khairy and Hamza Khairy as children, playing in a body of water together with their younger sister Aisha

Anas Khairy and Hamza Khairy with younger sister Aisha as children | Photo provided

Before they knew it, Anas was flying overseas to join his brother at UC. Hamza joked that, unlike his brother, he had to navigate the U.S. solo. Anas replied, “I knew that someone was waiting for me at the airport.” 

But how did Hamza feel having his younger brother crashing into Cincinnati? 

“The school has like 50,000 students,” Hamza said. “The chances of me bumping into him are very minimal, so I don’t mind it. It happens, but only because we hang out in the same places.” 

Currently, Hamza has a firmware engineering co-op at optical networking company Infinera in San Francisco, California. Anas has a co-op at Great American Insurance Group as an emerging technology developer and is a Resident Advisor in Calhoun Hall for a floor of engineering students. He enjoys helping his residents with their engineering homework. 

As international students, the Khairy brothers believe there are many advantages to having a sibling at the same university, highlighting that it has allowed them to be connected to more people socially and professionally. And for Anas, there's built-in guidance for upper-level coursework. 

“If I need help, I have a teacher at home who can help me,” Anas said. 

But most importantly, having a sibling at the same university, oceans away from home means having support throughout the journey. 

“Having someone in the United States before coming was a great thing,” Anas said, “it’s one of the most important things that changed my experience.”  

“I see him going through stuff that I went through, and I can help him,” Hamza said, “and maybe I can learn from him too.” 

UC has now become a family affair for the Khairys. Their 17-year-old sister Aisha will start in the fall and plans to major in computer engineering. Their youngest sister Alaa is already looking forward to attending UC, too. 

“It’s a family thing,” Hamza said.

The Singhs

Third-year students Khwahish and Kartavya Singh flew from Kuwait to attend UC. Due to COVID restrictions, older sister Khwahish took a year off from school and joined younger brother Kartavya in the same year. Some siblings might roll their eyes at the thought, but the Singh siblings are not only okay with it—they prefer it. 

UC students Khwahish Singh and Kartavya Singh as sitting on the floor together in a home in India

Khwahish Singh and Kartavya Singh as children in their native country India | Photo provided

Originally from India, Khwahish is a health science major on the pre-med track with a double minor in chemistry and public health. Kartavya is a computer science major completing his master’s in engineering at the same time. With no other siblings, they describe their family as “close knit,” their father a petroleum engineer and their mother a stay-at-home parent. 

Barely two years apart, Khwahish and Kartavya have spent very little time away from each other. They took similar classes in middle and high school and completed homework assignments together. When it came time for their college search, the Singh family put together an elaborate spreadsheet of choices and worked with an agency to find a university that would fit both siblings’ interests.

“We started researching universities and recognized the potential that UC had,” Khwahish said. “Like being number one for co-op opportunities for Kartavya and having so many hospitals and clinics around for hands-on experience for me.” 

The Singhs note that their communications with UC’s International Admissions office also made the decision easy.  

It’s almost like we are a part of each other while having our own sense of individuality.

Khwahish Singh, third-year health science student

“The application process was a seamless experience compared to other universities,” Kartavya said. 

Before Khwahish and Kartavya knew it, they were off to Cincinnati for their first year of college, ready to set up their shared dorm together in Morgens Hall. They both enjoyed the feeling of living on campus and being involved in campus life, looking out their window on a Saturday morning to see Sigma Sigma Commons lined with tents during football season. 

Today, Khwahish and Kartavya live separately as Resident Advisors in Scioto Hall and the Eden. They still find ways to connect during the week while preserving their own hobbies, too. 

“It’s almost like we are a part of each other while having our own sense of individuality,” Khwahish said. Like the Khairy brothers, Khwahish and Kartavya don’t see any disadvantages of having your sibling at the same university.  

“Maintaining boundaries and having an individual identity while being together all the time is important. Any events, we’re there together; any organization, we’re there together; going out, we’re there together. We even lived together for two years,” Khwahish said. “It would be a challenge, but it’s not a disadvantage.”

Khwahish Singh and Kartavya Singh standing together wearing traditional Indian outfits.

Khwahish Singh and Kartavya Singh at a University of Cincinnati Garba event, a traditional Indian dance festival | Photo provided

Khwahish and Kartavya have traditions they’ve developed along the way, like movie nights with their friends or cooking traditional Indian dishes together. And the personal connections they have made have turned into a larger network for both siblings, helping with medical school recommendations, co-op opportunities and future jobs. 

“There’s definitely built in support with having a sibling or a family member here.” Khwahish said. “Whether it is collaborating on projects or helping each other with assignments or personal or academic issues.” 

Kartavya joked that another advantage is getting double the free stuff around campus. When they have a good stock of UC swag, they bring it home to their parents. 

“They get to say, ‘hey, our children actually study at the University of Cincinnati,’” he said. “It’s not only the U.S., it goes out to Kuwait, India, everywhere.” 

“I think our parents have more UC merchandise than any parent ever,” Khwahish said. “They have flags, t-shirts, caps and so much more.” 

Looking ahead, the Singhs will try their best to provide that same support system for one another. 

“Kartavya will be done with his academics and education in two years. I have a lifetime,” Khwahish said. “Change is the only constant.”

As they spoke, Khwahish and Kartavya provided reassurance to each others’ statements, making comments like “that’s perfect” after every thought. For students so far from home, that kind of understanding makes a world of difference.  

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Featured image: Third-year students and siblings Khwahish and Kartavya Singh on Sigma Sigma Commons | Photo by Kathleen Hornstra

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