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May 30, 2024

Tahrawi reflects on path from refugee to professor - Arabic Professor discusses childhood struggles and inspirational travels

By CHRISTINA SOCIAS | April 5, 2012

Since his childhood, Professor Khalil Tahrawi has dreamt of becoming a teacher. He always had plans to become an educator. But, at a young age, Tahrawi would discover that not all would go as planned for his future and the future of his Palestinian family.

In 1948, after the escalation of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Tahrawi and his family were forced to leave their southern Palestinian village and head to a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.

"It was very difficult," Tahrawi said. "We lived part of our lives in tents then we moved to houses built by the United Nations."

Tahrawi recalled how his new home had no utilities, electricity or bathrooms, requiring him and his family to use public restrooms.

Living as a refugee in these tents and houses was difficult for Tahrawi.

"We suffered the most when it was too cold or too hot," Tahrawi said. "The tent had no protection whatsoever."

Living in these modest shelters, Tahrawi learned how quickly a refugee's fortune could turn. Tahrawi remembers the storm that literally blew his home - a simple tent - away.

"In one storm our tent is gone and have you to work really hard to get another one," Tahrawi said.

Despite his displacement and life as a refugee for sixteen years on account of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Tahrawi harbors no ill feelings toward the Israelis.

"I don't blame them (Israelis) because this is what they were told," Tahrawi said. "I do believe from my heart, there are honest Israelis who feel for the Palestinians and their situations.

For Tahrawi, the solution to the conflict is not the two-state solution proposed by President Obama and many other world leaders.

"I do believe the Israelis and the Palestinians should live in one state, and work together to make that place the place of everyone," Tahrawi said.

Tahrawi would live as a political refugee until he turned eighteen and began college at Cairo University in Egypt. While studying as an undergraduate in Cairo, Tahrawi's life changed drastically.

"I really enjoyed the experience of the undergraduate life," Tahrawi said. "It was the funniest [part] of my life; we always laugh and [were] happy."

At Cairo, Tahrawi was not yet interested in majoring in the Arabic language. He enjoyed history and the French language and would have majored in the two if he had not been discouraged with the market at the time.

Tahrawi also enjoyed his professors during his undergraduate years. He appreciated the bonds he formed with his peers, but he especially appreciated those bonds he formed with his professors in Egypt.

"My professors were some of the best professors in Egypt," Tahrawi said. "I feel with gratitude for them - I learned a lot from them."

In addition to his academics at Cairo, Tahrawi loved to travel. He visited many different places, but none would compare to the marvel of the United States.

"I felt like the United States itself is a world by itself," Tahrawi said. "I still needed to discover the U.S. more before thinking about going anywhere else."

Tahrawi would fall in love with the Hawaii and Florida. After his undergrad years, Tahrawi lived in the United States to earn his Masters and Doctorate degrees.

Tahrawi received his Masters in Arabic from Saint Xavier University in Illinois and his Doctorate from Nova Southeastern University in Florida. Tahrawi concentrated his thesis and studies on teaching the Arabic language to non-native speakers.

He would then go on to teach Arabic at a number of universities such as American University in Washington D.C.. But for Tahrawi, none compared to Hopkins. He arrived at Homewood eight years ago and since then, believes Hopkins is unique compared to other institutions.

"Hopkins has a unique setting, which I did not find at other institutes I worked at," Tahrawi said.

"[What] I like most about Hopkins is the type of students they have. The students are very committed to their education, very diligent and very respectful at the same time."

For Tahrawi, teaching Hopkins undergraduates is a pleasure and an honor. He believes the relationship between a teacher and a student is truly an equal exchange.

"I feel like teaching is a continuation of socialization with the people," Tahrawi said. "Teaching is not only giving but take."

Part of this pride and honor Tahrawi has for his job as a professor stems from his culture. Arabic culture honors educators.

"The teacher was very well respected in the community and the society," Tahrawi said. "You also feel like you are someone who is important."

In turn, Tahrawi recommends all undergraduates enjoy their time in college and think seriously about their futures.

"Live the experience of the undergraduate and truly enjoy it," Tahrawi said. "Because this is, I believe, the best time in the person's life."

Although Tahrawi's undergraduate years have come and gone, Tahrawi still enjoys life as an Arabic professor, working with complete beginners to advanced Arabic speakers. He is also a proud father and other activities out of the classroom.

For fun, Tahrawi enjoys gardening and working in his yard. He grows a multitude of vegetables and other produce.

"I like to do my garden," Tahrawi said. "I enjoy planting tomatoes and cucumber and watermelon."

Tahrawi, along with fellow Arabic Professor Fadel Abdallah, is currently producing a series of college level Arabic textbooks. The textbook series is titled: Windows in Arabic and its Culture and currently covers three levels of Arabic.

Tahrawi derives joy from many outlets: his gardens, the Arabic language and teaching. His experiences, both laborious and happy, have helped Tahrawi instill this appreciation and joy throughout the classroom in his Arabic students.

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