Preserving Arabic Culture while Realizing his American Dream
In his Advanced 4th year Arabic class at Johns Hopkins University, Khalil Tahrawi asks his students, “What was the tipping point in your life?” Laughing, he says, “They usually look to me first. I tell them, “You already know my dream; think about yours.” A refugee until he began undergraduate studies at Cairo University in Egypt, Tahrawi’s dream was to come to America.
After graduating, Tahrawi worked as a high school teacher in Saudi Arabia, and then began pursuing his dream. He recalls, “Due to the current political climate, it was not easy being a Palestinian seeking a VISA in the 1970s. I took the risk and applied.” With his wife, daughter, and only $10,000, he entered the United States. “I knew it was a new start,” says Tahrawi, “but it was hard trying to make it in the US with a family and no other source of income. I knew if I applied myself, I would be successful.”
Tahrawi decided to continue his education at St Xavier University. Following that, he started his interest in teaching Arabic. “My family would speak Arabic at home, but I knew one day my children would go to school, speak English, and forget their culture.”
It was then that he decided to pursue another dream: to continue his education, and teach Arabic as a second language to students in the United States. Tahrawi (Ed.D. ’96) came to Nova as a working professional, teaching Arabic at Johns Hopkins. “I was looking for a program that would meet my needs as an employee, student, and family man. Nova was a perfect fit.”
However, according to Tahrawi, completing his coursework took a significant amount of commitment, will and determination. “We met only on weekends. This was my time off from work to rest and be with my family. Our cluster, which met at King of Prussia, PA, was four hours from my home. There were times when I would have to spend the night or leave at 4a.m. to attend classes.”
While at Nova, he continued his research in improving the oral and writing skills of the students who are taking or learning Arabic as a second language. “This was where my passion lies. I was able to develop an approach to enhance the skills of my own students. It was a blessing for me to apply my research to my working environment. Nova is a unique experience; you are able to improve the environment you are working in through applying the concepts you are learning.”
His future plans include expanding upon a volume of college-level textbooks he has already begun with Johns Hopkins colleague Fadel Abdallah. Entitled Windows on Arabic and its Culture, the next volume is due in September, with another two books planned.
“I am grateful to the experiences I have had in America. I have met many mentors and made many wonderful professional connections. Not only that, but getting to know people who have different perspectives is something I will take with me for the rest of my life. I advise current and future students that time is precious and valuable. But, if you can use it wisely, you can accomplish much.”