Iraq Unveils Study Abroad Initiative
JACKI LYDEN, host:
In Iraq, higher education has been one of the worst casualties of the war. A once-proud tradition of academics is in tatters. This past week, the Iraqi government launched a program that hopes to send up to 10,000 students to universities abroad, including the United States.
Mr. ZUHAIR HUMADI (Executive Director, Iraq Education Initiative): It is really a full scholarship, and the Iraqi government is paying for that.
LYDEN: That's Zuhair Humadi, executive director of the Iraq Education Initiative. He organized a kind of college fair at the Al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad this past week. More than 20 American universities attended, including Humadi's alma mater, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. Larry Dietz is the school's vice chancellor, and I asked him to tell me about his first Baghdad recruiting trip.
Mr. LARRY DIETZ (Vice Chancellor, Southern Illinois University Carbondale): Well, it was certainly unique. You had to go through security to get into the - several levels of security to get into the Green Zone and then on into the hotel. But I'd say the sameness is about their eagerness to pursue further education for themselves and in many cases, for their family, and then return to the country and make it a better place.
LYDEN: So tell me about the students who stopped by at the college fair. Are there stories you remember?
Mr. DIETZ: There's one young lady, in particular, whose name I may mispronounce, but I'll call her Sunny(ph). Sunny was interested in pursuing a Ph.D. And she would go around to some of the other tables, and about every 30 minutes, she would check back and she would say, don't forget me. And I would say, I won't forget you - the first couple of times.
The fair was about a four-hour time frame, and so I saw her multiple times during all this. And her last time, she came over and she said, I really want to come to your university. I really want to come to your country because I want to make a difference in my own country, and you can help me with that. I want to do that for myself, and I want to do that for my mother. I want my mother to see me improve my own education, and come back and make a difference here.
And so it's that kind of passion, I think, that we really felt throughout our entire visit there, hope for the future. And so that, to me, was very positive.
LYDEN: I understand there's something of a tangential relationship between Iraq and the school mascot at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.
Mr. DIETZ: Yes, there is. Our mascot is a saluki. A saluki is an Egyptian hunting dog. And one of the things that I took with me, which was kind of fun to talk with students about - I'd left them with a little refrigerator magnet that had a paw print on it, and the descriptor behind all of that was about the saluki hunting dog.
This region of Illinois is called Little Egypt. Well, the saluki Egyptian hunting dog is one of the most ancient dogs in the world, and its handlers were typically from Mesopotamia and also from Iraq. And that was in the description.
And so people that I shared that with, I think automatically thought that, well, from a fun perspective, I mean, that doesn't define our academic programs, but it does define the spirit on the campus. Now, a lot of people there didn't know what a mascot was for a university, but once you had an opportunity to explain that, that was kind of a curiosity for them.
LYDEN: Larry Dietz is vice chancellor for student affairs at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, and he joined us from member station WSIU. Thanks very much, Mr. Dietz, and good luck.
Mr. DIETZ: Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity.
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