Going back to Morocco in North Africa is a reality check for Issam “Ziggy” Knouf ’20. Although he was born there, Knouf grew up in Chapel Hill, N.C.—more than 4,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean.
“When I go back, it’s a cultural reality check,” he states. “There’s a lot of poverty…but there are nice places, too. Driving around, you see a lot of people who are stressed.”
Before Ziggy was born, his parents moved from North Africa to North Carolina to seek a better life. While his mom was pregnant with him, she flew to Morocco to be with her father, who was ill. While there, she gave birth prematurely.
“I ended up being born in Morocco!” he says with a warm smile. Once delivered, Ziggy had respiratory issues that developed into asthma. When his mom needed to return to America, he was unable to travel, so his grandmother raised him in Morocco until he was six months old and healthy enough to travel.
Living with asthma as a child and after many hospital visits, he developed a deep appreciation for the health care industry. Since his parents were both nurses in Morocco—his father still practices in North Carolina—he originally wanted to pursue a health-related career as an occupational therapist.
Believing that he had decided upon a major and a college, Ziggy traveled to Southeastern Pennsylvania where he was recruited to play basketball for another small Catholic college. After his first semester, he transferred into Immaculata University’s exercise science program in the pre-occupational therapy track and continued his basketball career as a Mighty Mac under Coach Jayson Hyman.
“I fell in love with the program; it wasn’t just about basketball. Coach J made me feel like [IU’s basketball team] was a family,” he says, explaining why he transferred.
As important as playing sports is to Ziggy, his academic life takes priority. After completing his sophomore year, he decided to switch majors from exercise science to criminology. His goal is to attend law school to help launch a career with the FBI, which has interested him since he was 11 years old.
For a fifth grade class project, Ziggy researched the FBI and visited the J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, D.C., which houses the bureau’s headquarters. ”It’s been a goal of mine to work for them or any government agency, for that matter,” he explains.
As a criminology major, Ziggy is exploring the key concepts in criminology, such as the measurement of crime; historical and contemporary theories of crime; criminal behavioral systems; and the adult criminal justice system. He is excited about his new career path and is committed to his studies.
Perhaps his family’s upbringing in Morocco has taught Ziggy not to take anything for granted. “It can all be taken away from you in an instant,” he states plainly.
Although focused, he is also lighthearted and affable. He spends his spare time hanging out with his roommates playing PlayStation, walking his 105-pound pit bull puppy, Colossal, and reading James Patterson’s Alex Cross series. He has made lifelong friends at Immaculata University and jokes that some of these guys will be in his wedding when he gets married.
By earning his college degree, he is carrying on the dream his parents had when they arrived in the United States. “My dad came over here with nothing because he wanted to give me and my mom a better life. He is my role model,” gushes Ziggy.