The University of Iowa

UI Students Among Group of Iraqi Pioneers in U.S.

September 15th, 2010

By Diane Heldt, The Gazette
Photo by Brian Ray.

Doctoral students Khalid Algharrawi (right) and Adnan Abdulwahid (left) both from Baghdad, Iraq walk across the UI campus Monday, Sept. 13, 2010 in Iowa City. The two men are among five doctoral students that came to the UI as part of the Iraqi Education Initiative. The five are on conditional-admittance as UI doctoral students pending completion of English-as-a-second-language training before starting academic studies.


The first week was the toughest for a group of Iraqi students in a new program at the University of Iowa this fall.

Finding a place to live, adjusting to foreign food, learning how to get around town via cabs and buses, and puzzling over how to use the laundry machines occupied much of their time.

The five doctoral students came to the UI as part of the Iraqi Education Initiative, a program in which just a handful of colleges and universities around the country are taking part. For all five students, it is their first time in the United States.

“The first week we say, ‘We will go home,’ ” Khalid Algharrawi, 31, said. “It’s a shock, just like we come from another planet. We are educated, but here we feel ignorant.”

Slowly, the students are learning their way, adjusting to American life.

“The people of Iowa are very open and gentle and nice with us,” Adnan Abdulwahid, 31, said.

The five are on conditional-admittance as UI doctoral students; they must complete English-as-a-second-language training before starting academic studies. They all speak English, at varying levels, but are in full-time classes Mondays through Fridays for grammar, writing, reading and communication skills.

“We are trying by ourself to learn about the culture,” said Algharrawi, who will study chemical engineering.

The Iraqi Education Initiative, with about 80 students placed around the United States this fall, was launched after a delegation of college and university officials traveled to Baghdad in January 2009 at the invitation of the prime minister.

“A good goal has been achieved by this program,” Algharrawi said. “It will generate good relations between these people.”

Iraq sent invitations to more than 100 schools, and 22 visited Baghdad. Among the delegation was Scott King from UI International Programs.

Iraqi officials wanted to start a major school initiative and needed partner institutions in the United States and England, King said.

“We want to become a major player in international education, and this seemed like such an opportunity for us to truly make a change through international education,” said King, assistant dean.

The aim of the program is to cultivate the next generation of Iraqi leaders who will help stabilize the war-torn country, King said. The Iraqi government covers tuition and living expenses. The goal is to eventually send 10,000 Iraqi students per year, for five years of scholarships.

Along with Algharrawi and Abdulwahid, a student in math, the five at the UI are: Mohanad Aljanabi, 28, in medicine; Diar Ibrahim, 30, in geology; and Sabah Enayah, 31, in biology.

Enayah gave birth Thursday to a daughter — her third child — but says she wasn’t nervous about moving to a new country while pregnant. “It was no problem,” she said with a slight smile.

Her husband and two sons traveled to the United States with her. Three other students also are married, and their families have or will join them here, too.

Their bachelor’s and master’s degrees come from Iraqi universities, where they were all lecturers or assistant lecturers. They plan to return home once they finish doctoral degrees.

“We will transport this to Iraq,” Algharrawi said. “I will teach there what I learned here.”

Coming to the United States to study is a great opportunity, the students said. Here they will have better research facilities and library resources, and they can get more hands-on training in their specialties, they said.

“A good goal has been achieved by this program,” Algharrawi said. “It will generate good relations between these people.”

They are bracing, though, for a completely foreign experience — winter.

“We heard it is very hard, that maybe it’s below zero,” Aljanabi said.

Added Abdulwahid: “We try to prepare. We buy coats.”

The arrival of the five graduate students doubles the population of Iraqi students at the UI, King said. The UI would be open to eventually accepting 40 Iraqi students a year through the program.