University of South Carolina

Iraqi student builds cultural bridges

By Hannah Spicher,, 803-777-9086

When Muaad Ibrahim first arrived at JFK airport in New York he barely understood a word of English. Now, 10 months later, he is breezing through conversations about hydraulic fracking, Skype and Gamecock football.

“I want to get tickets to Williams-Brice Stadium so that I can post photos of it on Facebook and brag to my friends back home about how much fun I’m having here,” Ibrahim says.  

Formerly a professor of accounting in his hometown of Tikrit, Iraq, Ibrahim came to USC in 2012 to learn English, and to eventually pursue a doctorate degree at the Moore School of Business with a dual concentration in international business and accounting.

“My country has loads of professionals, including scientists, accountants, doctors and engineers.  I could get a Ph.D. in Iraq. But I have bigger dreams. I want to get the Ph.D. in English,” he says.

Why is learning English so important?

“It’s the international language — the great connector — even among some Middle Eastern countries. If I want to speak with someone from Turkey, for instance, I don’t speak Arabic. I speak English,” he says.

He also thinks it’s important for staying current in his field of study.

“My mentor at University of Tikrit went to graduate school in the States. And, whenever I had specific questions about accounting he would always point to English books, not Arabic ones,” says Ibrahim. 

It takes a lot of guts to move halfway across the world to learn a new language. Braver still is the added challenge of studying a subject at a highly advanced level in a language that isn’t your native tongue. Yet hundreds of students come to USC to do just that. Through USC’s English Programs for Internationals (EPI) prospective and conditionally admitted students receive intensive, high-quality English language instruction before enrolling in USC degree programs, usually graduate ones.

International students are attracted to USC for the same reasons as domestic students: top programs, low cost of living, a beautiful and historic campus, and a welcoming, friendly climate.

“The dean of my school visited USC’s campus and said it was a great, friendly, beautiful place,” says Ibrahim.  “I also asked my friends who were in other English Ph.D. programs for advice and they said, ‘Don’t go to London. The weather is dreary!’ and “Don’t go to Texas! It’s not as nice. Go to Columbia, where is it sunny, green and beautiful,’ ” Ibrahim says. 

Since arriving to Columbia in August 2012, Ibrahim has found numerous ways to feel at home and to stay in touch, including cooking a meal with his mom and sister over Skype and locating the best stores for halal foods.  

The people in my hometown are a lot like the people here, he says.  “They are friendly and watch out for each other, just like in Columbia.” 

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Posted: 06/18/13 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 06/19/13 @ 2:45 PM | Permalink