Iraqi Education Initiative Sends Students to Valpo

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Published on October 06, 2010 with No Comments

Iraqi education initiative sends students to Valpo

Shortly after Mohammed Abed’s flight touched down at Chicago O’Hare International Airport in mid-August, followed by a short drive to Valparaiso University’s campus, the soon-to-be law student wondered whether he had traveled even further than the 6,500 miles between Iraq and Valparaiso.
“I saw everything was so different and thought to myself, ‘I’m on the moon, I’ve traveled to another planet,’” Abed, the first of several Iraqi college graduates who are enrolling at Valparaiso University this fall, said.

Abed and the other Iraqi students will pursue advanced degrees at the university as part of the new Iraq Education Initiative, a program designed to restore Iraq’s educational system and prepare thousands of young Iraqis to assume leadership roles in their homeland.
Julie Maddox, director of study abroad programs, participated in a 2009 trip to Iraq that laid some of the groundwork for the initiative and said Valparaiso University is well-positioned as a host institution.

“Valpo is committed to preparing students who are thoughtful leaders with a deep understanding of the world, which aligns with the overall mission of Iraq’s initiative,” Maddox said. “Valpo also has a large and diverse population of international students, with a number of programs and services in place to ensure their success in a welcoming community.”

Abed is currently enrolled in the Interlink Language Center at the university, which provides international students with intensive English language training, academic preparation and cultural orientation. As soon as he completes the Interlink program, Abed will begin taking classes at the University’s School of Law in order to earn his master’s degree in law.
“My favorite hobby is learning about other countries and about the different government and legal systems that exist,” Abed, who graduated at the top of his class from the University of Anbar in western Iraq where he earned his bachelor’s degree in law, said.
Before leaving Iraq, Abed was not sure how he would be received in the United States, but he soon found that the stereotypes he had heard about Americans were not true.

“I’ve found Americans to be very nice and polite,” he said. “From the moment I arrived at O’Hare everyone has been really helpful. Everyone says ‘Have a nice day’ and has been very welcoming. I’ve changed my mind about the stereotypes about Americans that many Iraqis have.”
The Iraq Higher Committee for Education Development, part of the Iraqi prime minister’s office, has allocated around $55 million for the program’s first year, with approximately 600 students expected to take part – half in the United States and half in Britain.
In the U.S., Valparaiso University is one of about two dozen colleges and universities selected to host Iraqi students for the initial pilot program. Over the next several years, the Iraq Education Initiative plans to send many more students to colleges and universities across the country.
An additional five Iraqi students are scheduled to arrive at Valparaiso University in October to begin their studies.
“I’m very excited about getting my degree here,” Abed said. “It is a very nice campus and community. I look forward to making American friends who I can talk to and learn more about American culture.”

The safety of the university’s campus stands in stark contrast to his experience growing up and going to school in Anbar.
“It was difficult going to the university because there was a lot of violence,” he said. “Every day you could not sleep because of the bombs and gunfire.”
Yet Abed looks forward to returning to Iraq after completing his master’s degree at Valparaiso University. He will work for the government, possibly in Iraq’s court system or as an ambassador.
“I want to go back to Iraq and improve my country,” he said. “Helping my fellow citizens so they can live a better life is very important to me.”

For more information on the Iraq Education Initiative, visit www.cap.aed.org/iraqEducation.cfm.

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