Wasan Tawfeeq and I met in 2014 while we were both studying at Florida State University’s College of Education. At the time, we were both taking the same class. I will always remember Wasan’s introduction to the class. Typically on the first day of class in the US, we announce to our classmates who we are and where we are from. There were 10 students in the class. Many were from China, and a handful from the US. And then there was Wasan. She got up, smiled, and said, “I am from Iraq and I speak Arabic. I am getting my Ph.D. in Foreign and Second Language at FSU.”
Until this point, I had never met anyone from Iraq, yet I had heard a lot about the country. Everything I had heard came from family and friends who had been deployed there, and of course, whatever I had picked up from the news. However, meeting Wasan and getting to know her has made me realize that we are very much alike. We both enjoy teaching, learning, and traveling.
Meet Wasan and Why She is Teaching and Studying in the USA
Why did you choose to come to the USA?
“I chose to come to the USA to get my Ph.D. degree in Foreign and Second Language Education because I wanted to engage with native speakers. I was keen on not only developing my English skills, but also learning more about the culture. Culture and communicating with native speakers is the key to improving your language skills and being fluent in it.”
What are your goals while you are here at FSU?
“While I am here at FSU as a Ph.D student, I have several goals. First and foremost is to get my degree, which is why I am here. Second, is to acquire more experience in teaching, which is what I am doing right now. I am working as a professor at undergraduate level. This is my third semester teaching Arabic at FSU. Before that, I taught elementary students the Arabic language through the STARTALK program. I also worked as an interpreter with the Egyptian delegation with the Learning System Institute at FSU.”
Have you ever taught before? If not, what was your career field?
“My teaching career started in Baghdad, Iraq where I taught English for two years at Mustansiriya University. I taught university students in different departments (Geography, Physical Education, Art Education, and Elementary Education), and advised 14 students on research writing and professional internships. Every student had to complete an internship and a major research project to graduate, so I advised them on project planning, evaluated their efficiency, and academic performance. I still remember my first day— I prepared all the class materials by myself, wrote out a detailed lesson plan, and practiced my entire lecture at home.”
Where are you teaching in the USA? What are you teaching?
“I am teaching Arabic now in the United States, and I am getting a lot of experience through teaching American students Arabic, which is a foreign language for them. I get really excited when I see how my students enjoy learning Arabic and are doing very well.
The Modern Languages and Linguistics department is where I work at FSU. I teach two courses ARA 1121 and ARA 2220. This is my second semester teaching at this department. Some classes I teach are: ARA 1121 Elementary Arabic II – this class introduces extended vocabulary and grammar, and basic conversation is emphasized. Students start conversing in spoken Arabic as well as reading and writing in Modern Standard Arabic. This course also develops the students’ knowledge of Arab culture. ARA 2220 Intermediate Arabic solidifies knowledge of basic grammar and expands the students’ vocabulary. It emphasizes reading and writing in formal Arabic, as well as listening and speaking in colloquial Arabic. Students participate in cultural activities, write compositions, and give oral presentations in class. It may not be taken concurrently with ARA 1120 and/or 1121.
I have taught before at FSU’s College of Education, EDF 1005-004, Introduction to Education.”
Why did you choose to teach in the USA? Why did you choose FSU over other schools?
“I chose FSU over other schools because it has a great reputation. I like my major and what they offer. The College of Education offers a Foreign and Second Language Education major for Ph.D. students. Finally, I like how people in Florida are so friendly and I feel at home.”
What assumptions or expectations did you have before you came to the USA?
“As I am from a different country, I was thinking about the differences in educational systems between here and there, and how I could adjust to it. But, when I came here I faced other challenges that are not in my country, like health insurance, car insurance, taxes and so on. Now, I can say after a year in the USA, everything is okay and I can deal with it without a need to ask somebody.”
What has been the most difficult since you arrived?
“I think I had some difficulties when I arrived in the USA. In my country, we speak British English with some American words that British people do not use. So, basically, I had trouble with communicating and making myself clear so Americans could understand what I was saying.”
What has been the best experience about teaching and studying in the USA?
“Overall, I believe that to make learning better, teachers have to motivate their students by planning and modeling activities that encourage their students to understand and think critically about the subject, and to assist them to achieve their goals. My own dissertation research examines the role of directed motivational currents in second language learning among Arab heritage and Arab ESL learners, teaching and studying in the USA. Motivation has a vital role in learning a language, since the longer language learners maintain their motivation the higher proficiency levels they can reach. In a classroom setting, language teachers can apply DMC components such as goals/visions and time, and help their students reach class-level, project-level, and course-level goals. This approach not only helps students increase their L2 practice (second language practice), but gives them a salient and facilitative structure, a clear perspective on learning, and positive emotional loading.”
On International Women’s Day, I had the pleasure of joining Wasan in her classroom to see her in action. Not only was it a great joy to see my former classmate teach her own class, but it was heartwarming to share in her achievements on such a special day. Stay tuned to find out more about Wasan’s classes at FSU and what she will be doing post-graduation.