BY: NATALIE HEINITZ
All I have to say is, thank goodness Hanadi Abdullah chose to teach and study literature over pharmacy.
Abdullah, a 25-year-old young woman from Baghdad, Iraq, is a natural born teacher with a passion for English literature. Even more, she is a Fulbright Scholar.
The Fulbright Scholarship program is one of the most prestigious scholarship exchange programs in the world. It selects students, teachers, scholars, and professionals to be FulBright Scholars every year under a variety of programs that strive to merge international understanding and culture.
Abdullah’s specific Fulbright program is the Foreign Language Teaching Assistants (FLTA).
“It’s a scholarship for foreign language teachers and assistants, so you either assist in teaching your native language or you teach a primary teacher the language,” Abdullah said as she explained the fundamentals of the program to me.
The FLTA “is designed to develop Americans’ knowledge of foreign languages by supporting teaching assistantships in over 30 languages at hundreds of U.S. institutions of higher education,” according to the Institute of International Education (IIE), which sponsors the program.
Not to mention, Abdullah is the only Fulbright Scholar in the FLTA program from Iraq. Every other country involved, which expands to over 50, selects at least two scholars.
“The whole point of the scholarship is to bring mutual understanding between American people and the country you come from—to build a bridge, to share culture,” Abdullah explained. “I thought that it would be a great opportunity to teach in America and thought it would add a lot to my teaching profile.”
Abdullah is no stranger to a classroom setting. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in English Literature in Jordan and her master’s degree in English Studies at the University of Exeter in England, she taught English Composition and Basic English at the University of Baghdad for a year and a half.
It is no wonder then why Abdullah teaches Arabic here at Manhattan College and takes English literature classes as a part of her Fulbright Scholarship. She also grew up surrounded by these two talents of hers, as her mom is a novelist and her father is a university professor of Arabic.
Despite this strong influence of educating and writing, Abdullah began her educational career on the opposite side of the spectrum. She went to pharmacy school.
“I got accepted into pharmacy school and I did one semester. I did very well, but it wasn’t my thing. I thought that since I’m pretty good at English and I love it, that I would try and transfer,” Abdullah revealed.
“I got to pick between translation and literature, so I thought I’d give literature a try and I loved it.”
Needless to say, Fulbright Scholarships are not given to just anyone. Applicants must show a strong academic background, leadership potential, a passion for creating understanding between cultures, and flexibility to immerse themselves in a completely foreign country.
When I inquired about her transition into American culture, Abdullah responded with positivity. I wasn’t surprised—she exuded confidence from the moment I met her. Except for a one-week long visit, this is Abdullah’s first experience in the United States.
“I was in New York City for one day in 2009. Really, this is my first time in New York. At first I was really shocked and I didn’t like it at first. The life here is so fast! People are always on the run. Now, I really like it because it is such an experience,” Abdullah said.
“Baghdad is a city but it’s way different from New York. Here you see all these large buildings and that is not the case at home. What I like is that people here are very friendly. I did expect that, because people told me that Americans are like that, but I didn’t expect it to that extent,” she said.
People nice? In New York? Well, Overlook Manor is the exception apparently.
“People are loud! I live in Overlook and I miss having a good night sleep,” Abdullah revealed with a laugh.
According to the U.S. Department of State, which funds the Fulbright Scholarship program, there have been 43 Fulbright alumni who have won Nobel Peace prizes and 78 have won Pulitzer Prizes.
Over 155 countries participate in the program and awards approximately 8,000 grants annually. There have been 310,000 “Fullbrighters” in the program since its beginning in 1946.
Abdullah is one of 4,000 foreign student Fulbright scholars in the world, which includes all of their underlying programs.
“So far, everything has been very convenient. They [Fulbright] pays for everything and they keep in touch when you have questions. Whenever you need them, they’re there.”
From its beginning in 1946, the Fulbright Scholarship program has strived to promote peace through education between countries. In 1945, after World War II and the coming establishment of the United Nations, Senator J. William Fulbright proposed a bill to use a surplus of money from war property to fund an international scholarship exchange program.
Since then, the 155 countries that participate receive funds from their own government and private companies and organizations worldwide. The Fulbright Program also depends heavily on the existence of host universities for foreign students. Manhattan College is one of them.
Abdullah’s students are not the only ones learning from her experience here at Manhattan College as a Fulbright Scholar.
“What’s interesting is that when you come on this kind of scholarship, you don’t realize a lot of things about your own culture and language. When you teach, it’s like ‘oh, I didn’t know that about my language!’ So I think this is a very good aspect of the scholarship and I think I very much understand the purpose of it now,” Abdullah clarified to me.
Another aspect of Abdullah’s understanding is through her own, personal observations in the classroom. Teaching Arab-American students has been an enlightening experience for the young teacher.
“I think it’s sad to see how Arab immigrants don’t teach their kids Arabic. I’m teaching a lot of students whose parents are immigrants or recent descendants, but they don’t know how to speak the language,” Abdullah acknowledged.
“It’s an important thing to pass on your culture and identity.”
Hanadi Abdullah is by far one of the most captivating people I have ever met. Her intellect and world experience is apparent in her conversation, while her humbleness is admirable and almost envying.
So if you’re considering registering for an Arabic class, you better sign up for this spring. The most talented and kind Hanadi Abdullah is only here until May, where she’ll leave Manhattan College for her next step towards her inevitable greatness.