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Office of International Studies and Programs
Central Washington University
400 E. University Way
Ellensburg, WA 98926-7408
Phone: (509) 963-3612
Fax: (509) 963-1558

CWU welcomes first Tunisian exchange student to campus

This fall, Ahlem Jedidi became the first student from Tunisia—the northernmost nation in Africa—to ever study at Central Washington University.

“At first, I didn’t know there was an Ellensburg or a Washington that was not part of Washington D.C,” admitted Jedidi. “Then I did some research and decided it was going to be different, but really great. Everyone has been so welcoming and so kind. I have the feeling like it’s my home now, even after only a week.”

Jedidi, 22, is the university’s first Thomas Jefferson Scholarship Program, Tunisia UGRAD scholarship recipient. CWU’s Office of International Studies and Programs (OISP) helped facilitate her year of study.

Coordinated by the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Thomas Jefferson program is run through IREX, a nonprofit international education and development organization. An interview was part of the selection process.

“I had never spoken English before with people from the United States,” Jedidi noted, adding that the language barrier is still presenting some challenges. “I don’t know the names of vegetables,” she added, with a laugh. “I have to go on the Internet and see what they are.”

Not only is it the language and country that are different, but CWU’s small-town locale is also an adjustment for Jedidi, who lives in Tunis—Tunisia’s largest city—with a population of more than one million.

“It’s different but I like different things,” she acknowledged. “I have never seen a place like this. The architecture is magical. The food? Yes, it’s different. So are the people, the way they see things, the way they think, the way they work. But I’m enjoying everything and the fact that it’s different from where I come from.”

Jedidi has already had time to amend one of her preconceptions about the United States.
“People [in Tunisia] who watch TV shows think that Americans do not have strong family relationships,” she explained. “When I came here all the students had their parents with them and my [American] roommate told me she likes to go home on the weekends because she misses her family. It changed my mind.”

Jedidi, who has a younger and older brother, says the importance of family here is akin to that in her home country. That importance of family is also driving her academic pursuits.
“I’m interested in social business, like family-life management, how you can do business by studying the family,” she pointed out. “I’m choosing classes that will, one day, help me open my social business, focusing on education.” 

Roslyn Moes, CWU international student advisor, added, “Ahlem is living on campus but will also be connected with a ‘friendship family,’ so she can experience real American culture, not what’s portrayed on television.”

In order to gain practical educational experience, Tunisia UGRAD students enhance their education with online career preparation in the fall followed by professional internships in the spring.

Participating students return to Tunisia equipped with the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to become innovators and leaders in their respective fields, while making positive contributions to the economic development of the country and its 11-million citizens.

“We are a small country and we have a lot to build,” Jedidi explained. “I want to learn about innovation and see what people do to succeed here. I’m going to go back and do the same thing in Tunisia, because we need it.”

Jedidi is among nearly 500 international students from 48 countries attending CWU classes fall quarter.

Rachel Gordon, OISP project manager, stated, “Our recruitment plan allows us opportunities to bring students here who would, otherwise, never have a chance to visit Ellensburg.”

Through interactions with her CWU peers and area residents, Jedidi will also provide new and different perspectives within Central classrooms and the community.

“I want people to know that Tunisia is a really beautiful country, with a lot of history, amazing traditions, and delicious foods,” Jedidi added. “Maybe someone will want to come and visit

Media contact: Robert Lowery, director of radio services and integrated communications, 509-963-1487,

September 27, 2016

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