Learning English Expands Opportunities for Iraqi Students
“My whole life I have dreamt of being an engineer, a successful one that actually could make a difference in this world and turn it into a better place.” - Aqeel, University of Basrah
“I am returning home to complete my degree as a civil engineer. After that, I want to get an MA in the US but then return to Iraq and work in a private company. I want to give back to my country and my family, because they have given me everything." – Dhuha, University of Kufa
Emerging from over a decade of war, young people across Iraq are renewing their aspirations for their own futures and the future of their country. In August, a brave group of Iraqi undergraduates arrived in the US for intensive English language classes, with high hopes of advancing their career ambitions. This week, after nearly two months of intensive classes, professional development opportunities and cultural exposure at the Oklahoma State University and University of Kentucky, the nine young men and women of the Summer English Language Study (SELS) program are preparing to return home.
Through the Iraq University Linkages Program, IREX partners with universities and educators across Iraq to upgrade curricula to match current needs and standards, establish university career centers, and equip students with skills for the 21st century job market. The Summer English Language Study (SELS) component of the program provides opportunities for Iraqi undergrads to prepare for the realities of a globalized economy through intensive English language training at partner universities in the US.
As the students themselves explained, English language skills are critical for their professional success, regardless of their field of study. “For multinational companies in Iraq, the number one qualification they look for is English language skills,” noted Hashem, a finance student from the University of Basra. Muna, an English major is considering ways that her English skills might benefit others in Iraq: “My teachers here (at the University of Kentucky) have inspired me to apply my skills not only in the university system, but also as an ESL teacher or a translator. There are so many opportunities to help people in Iraq and be successful (in these fields).”
Yet exposure to English isn’t the only opportunity they sought in the US. Murtadha, a computer engineering student, remarked upon his arrival at Oklahoma State, “My goal is to visit university departments and talk to students about how they study and utilize the library. This is something that is lacking in Iraq – we do not learn how to study or (access) resources.” Israa, a civil engineering student from the University of Kufa, adds, “This program has given me the ability to be independent. This is a wonderful thing, and I didn’t realize my abilities before. I want to teach in my home university and share my knowledge about science with the students of Iraq, showing others that they can do the same.”
As this year’ cohort of students prepare to return to Iraq this week, many remarked on their impressions of US society and culture, the relationships they built with US professors in their disciplines, and the new skills that will help them propel themselves forward in their burgeoning careers. “The (US educational) system is very very supportive for helping students meet their goals” noted Muna as she began to pack up at the University of Kentucky. “All of us have new plans for the future.”
“I am working hard to use the last days here wisely,” added Murtadha. “I learned many new things I didn’t know before. Although I will not be staying here any longer to practice my English, I learned strategies that will help me to study on my own.”