Iraqi students enjoy first semester at Iowa

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Diane Heldt, Iowa Higher Education

IOWA CITY — The snow, they like. The sometimes bitterly cold winter temperatures, not so much.

Five students from Iraq finished their first semester at the University of Iowa this fall, as part of the Iraqi Education Initiative, a program in which a handful of colleges and universities around the country are participating.

The Iraqi students are doing well in their English classes, Scott King, assistant dean with UI International Student & Scholar Services, said, and they likely have at least one more semester of English study before they begin their academic major classes. The Iraqi students, who all speak varying levels of English, are on conditional admittance as doctoral students, but their first semester was spent full-time in English classes, working on communication, writing, grammar and reading skills.

“I think they’ve adjusted fairly well,” King said. “They’re very anxious to be able to get to the level of English to enter their regular courses.”

When they first arrived, they spent time learning the bus routes and finding their way around town. Recently, winter has been the biggest adjustment, with cold weather and snow a new experience for the students.

“Five centigrade back home is cold. But after exposing to minus 15 centigrade here, now we feel warm at five,” Khalid Algharrawi, 31, said. “The good thing is we don’t need to go outside a lot because we are students. We read a lot.”

Algharrawi said his children — a son, age 6, and a daughter, age 3 — enjoy the snow. They built a snowman, which the kids called an “iceman,” and like sledding, he said. He and his wife walked to the grocery store one evening as the snow fell.

“We wanted to walk in the snow,” he said. “It was very nice.”

The five students all live near each other in an Iowa City apartment complex, which makes it easy to get together and support each other, Algharrawi said. He likely will invite the other students to his apartment for dinner on Christmas, he said. The students are all Muslims, Algharrawi said, but Christmas is recognized back home, he said.

“We respect Jesus. We have a lot of stories about him in our faith,” Algharrawi said.

King invited the students to his home for a traditional American Thanksgiving for the November holiday.

“We had pie with whipped cream in a can, and they got a kick out of that,” King said.

With several weeks off for winter break, Algharrawi said the Iraqi students will spend much of that time studying for the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL. The students must earn certain scores on that test and then take the graduate college entrance exam before starting academic classes.

It’s likely that two more Iraqi students will come to the UI spring semester through the program, King said.

The students who have been here for a semester have already found them places to live and plan to help them adjust.

“They will find everything prepared for them,” Algharrawi said.

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