Iraqi students arrive on UI campus
Just a few months before he began classes at the University of Iowa, Diar Ibrahim feared for his life.
The 30-year-old Iraq native was convinced it would be taken from him if he left his Baghdad hotel room.
In pursuit of their education, eight Iraqi students are planning to travel to study at the UI as part of the Iraqi Education Initiative. Two — Ibrahim and Adnan Abdulwahid, 31 — arrived last week. For the next six years, Abdulwahid and Ibrahim will work toward Ph.D.s in mathematics and geology, respectively.
Abdulwahid is from Erbil City, in northern Iraq. Four brothers, six sisters, a wife, and his 3-month-old daughter await him back home. However, he hopes his wife and daughter will attain visas and join him in Iowa. Because he is new to the English language, he spoke with hesitation, constructing his sentences carefully, so as not to waste words.
On the other hand, Ibrahim speaks quickly, as if grasping at any word he can find. For the most part, his sentences are well-constructed, any confusion replaced with excitement. He left only his immediate family in Iraq — four brothers and two sisters.
In addition to their families, these two men are leaving a war zone. Their hometowns aren't as dangerous as what Americans have seen in Baghdad, but both had to travel to the Iraqi capital for scholarship interviews.
Baghdad is at the center of the violence caused by a small group of radicals.
"I am afraid to leave my hotel room [in Baghdad]," Ibrahim said of that time. "They will take me as a hostage, kill me for nothing, take my money."
Abdulwahid, usually characterized by a blithe disposition, fell serious, furrowing his eyebrows as he described the current state of Iraq, using the word "scary" over and over.
Still, during his time as a lecturer at the University of Thi Qar, he said he has seen students persevere in the name of education.
"Despite the scary situation and the terrorism, they study," he said, and things in Iraq are getting better.
Scott King, the director of the Office of International Students and Scholars, said during a presentation to the Iowa City Foreign Council Committee that Iraq sees the Education Initiative — with students such as Abdulwahid and Ibrahim — as a way to "rebuild their society."
The Education Initiative, entirely funded by the Iraqi government, plans to send 50,000 students overseas to study over the course of five years. After six years of study, scholarship recipients are required to return to Iraq apply their education toward service for their country.
The UI was one of the first of the 27 universities to commit to the initiative. Eleven Iraqi students were admitted, and eight accepted. Six have received visas, and two are in the process.
Now at the UI, Ibrahim is studying geology with a focus on petroleum.
"Iraq is an oil country," he said. "It is my country's fate, my country's future."
Conversely, Abdulwahid is simply fascinated by numbers.
"I want to achieve the maximum in my specialty," he said.
They are starting over. They need books, cell phones, places to eat, a permanent place to live, and little things many Americans take for granted. But they're both up for the challenge.
"It's a big dream to me," Ibrahim said. "In all my life, I've wanted to come to the States to complete my education."
Ibrahim said the thought of spending the next six years in America is fulfilling.
"I am very comfortable with that," he said.
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