August 23, 2011
Waleed Abdulabbas is from Iraq and graduated from the Monterey Institute in 2013 with his Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Waleed's goal is to create cultural connections and mutual understanding between Americans and Iraqis. Below is the story of his journey to studying in America.
It’s a minor miracle that I am studying English in the United States.
I grew up in the countryside south of Baghdad where practically no one knew English. I can count on one hand the number of people who could speak it. Luckily, my uncle was one of those people. His knowledge was limited, but he taught me the alphabet and the Iraqi national anthem in English. He showed me the ropes of the language and started me in the right direction. Without him, I would not be able to write this story now.
My father had a stack of books he had collected from his studies at the Institute of Agriculture in Abu Ghraib. I use to read the index in the back of the books, which had lists of words in Arabic and English. From this, I learned vocabulary in agriculture and physics. Even though I did not know how to use all the words, I had hundreds of them floating around in my mind.
My fascination with the language led me to pursue my undergraduate studies in English at the College of Languages in Baghdad, where I started working as an English interpreter and translator with an international NGO organization in Iraq.
A month after graduating with my Bachelor's Degree, Helen Lafave, an official employee in the U.S. embassy in Baghdad sent me an email that said “you might check this.” The link was to a new scholarship program for graduate studies. I had applied for many other scholarships that I never heard back from, so I did not take this one seriously. It was just over a page long and I quickly filled it out, forgetting about it by the next day.
One month later, while I was sleeping on a hot summer night, I got a call. The woman on the other end said, "Are you Mr. Waleed Abdulabbas."
I hesitantly said “yes.”
"You are meeting the Iraqi prime minister tomorrow to deliver a speech and you have been nominated for the scholarship in TESOL at the Monterey Institute of International Studies," she said.
All my hair stood on end. I felt numb and could not believe what I was hearing. Even months later, as I was in Jordan, waiting to get on the plane to come to Monterey, I kept thinking that someone would tell me it was a mistake and that someone else would be going.
But as I finally stepped onto the beautiful Monterey Institute campus, I knew that my dream to study TESOL was now a reality.