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Student comes more than 9,000 miles to study at CWU

Haytham GuebibiaFor the second year in a row, CWU has been selected to host a student from the North African county of Tunisia for the 2017-18 school year.

The university was chosen by IREX based on the quality of the education offered, coupled with opportunities for community interaction.

“We had well over 150 applications from universities all across the United States applying to host students from the Tunisia Undergraduate Scholarship Program (Tunisia UGRAD),” said Kelfala Lebbie, IREX program associate.

“We were more than impressed by the work that the staff here put into making last year a very successful one for the Tunisia UGRAD student and we were more than happy to send another student here this year,” he continued. “Central Washington University does have really good and competitive academic programs. Ellensburg is a great town and we wanted a student to come out here to learn about America.”

Haytham Guebibia, the student who will be spending the next year in Ellensburg, said he never thought he would be chosen to participate in the program.

“It was like a dream to come to the [United] States—too good to be true,” Guebibia said about how he felt when he first learned about the scholarship program two years ago. “I did not participate the first year because I thought it was impossible.”

That mindset changed when he saw some of his friends take advantage of the exchange. He applied, competed for, and received the scholarship for this year, one of 100 selected from more than 1,200 applicants. His next decision pertained to his academic tract.

“After English, which is my major, I’ve always wanted to study communications,” he pointed out. “Improving my writing skills is the main purpose for choosing journalism. I really like to write and I want to learn the correct structure for writing for a newspaper.”

Based on that desire, IREX officials placed him at CWU in Ellensburg, neither of which were familiar to him.

“I read ‘central Washington’ and I thought it was in [Washington] D.C.,” he added. “I found out that there’s another Washington and I didn’t know anything about it. I knew about Seattle, but I didn’t know that it was in Washington state.”

Not only is his locale different than expected, but so are the educational system, and the weather.

“Here, it’s really colder and they told me snow is a big thing. It never snows back home. I have to get accustomed to a lot of things,” Guebibia said. “But I’m not complaining. I was surprised that the people here want to know about my background, where I come from, what it’s like to live in Tunisia—they’re very friendly. I didn’t think they would be so interested.”

IREX facilitates international education and development. Lebbie works specifically with the Thomas Jefferson Scholarship Program’s Tunisia UGRAD, which is a program of the United State Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and implemented by IREX.

“The goals of the program are to help the student develop academic and professional skills that they can then use to contribute to the economic development of Tunisia once they’re back home,” Lebbie explained. “It also allows them to get exposed to American culture, learn about American values, become friends with Americans, and teach Americans about where they’re from.”

Students are matched to institutions based, in part, on academic interest. Just as the students must fill out application forms, potential host colleges and universities must submit rigorous paperwork, detailing how they will meet students’ needs.

“Whatever way they can, the schools are also responsible for trying to find opportunities by which the student can talk about their home country,” Lebbie said. “The students also have to get involved with a local event or activity—that’s part of the cultural passport component.”

Students must upload photos with explanations in six different categories—such as sports and leisure, and local pride—in order to achieve their passport, along with making a community presentation pertaining to their country and culture.

Rachel Gordon, project manager with the CWU Office of International Studies and Program, added, “There are people on campus who don’t know that Tunisia exists. It’s exciting to be able to continue to spread that awareness, make connections, and provide a cultural experience to people and students who are place-bound. Haytham is a bright and energetic student and we’re lucky to have him here.”

Media contact: Robert Lowery, Department of Public Affairs, 509-963-1487, Robert.Lowery@cwu.edu.

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