Teaching the world

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Hesham Elnagar awarded Fulbright scholarship to teach in Jordan.

As a graduate student in the Sustainable Communities program at Northern Arizona University, Hesham Elnagar studied the various ways education can create positive change in communities. Now, as an alumnus selected for the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship Scholarship program, Elnagar is putting his own education into practice in Jordan, where he is spending a year teaching English to undergraduate students.

This is not the first time Elnagar has traveled abroad. In 2012, he studied in Tunisia as a Critical Language Scholarship recipient, where he immersed himself in learning the language and customs of the country while living with a host family.

"Living with a host family provided me with the opportunity for intense language immersion,” Elnagar says. “I lived the daily life that Tunisians would live. As an Arab-American – I'm from Egyptian descent – it was a big connection to be able to speak Arabic and have this kind of tri-cross-cultural relationship.”

When in Jordan

On his time abroad, Elnagar will take this relationship a step further by combining his knowledge of culture with his teaching skills developed during his time at the university.

“Being a student in the Sustainable Communities Program allowed me to deepen my understanding of culture, and pushed me to inquire about how privilege, power, and oppression affect marginalized groups and identities,” Elnagar explains. “In Jordan, I will constantly need to look at my own biases and assumptions to understand the new culture I am in.”

Elnagar will be teaching at a university, using his current knowledge of the Arabic language and culture to engage with his students on a deeper level.

“One of my main objectives is to be a cultural ambassador and to work to create a bridge of mutual understanding across different countries,” Elnagar says. 

Road to teaching

Elnagar originally came to Northern Arizona University from Las Vegas, and was an undergraduate music major and mathematics minor in the Honors program. After graduation, he received a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship to conduct research in New Zealand. Elnagar had always been interested in teaching and conducting research in education, and his time in New Zealand only encouraged him to return to Northern Arizona University to study as a student in the Sustainable Communities program.

“I wanted to pursue a graduate degree in Sustainable Communities for a couple of reasons,” Elnagar explains. “One, the idea of sustainability appealed to me because of its broad scope which includes social justice and world systems, and two, the flexibility of the program would allow me to pursue research I cared about. I knew then I wanted to come back to Northern Arizona University, because that was the best fit for me.”

Elnagar’s experiences at Northern Arizona University, both an undergraduate and graduate student, helped him prepare for the Fulbright application.

“My time at Northern Arizona University has been really formative,” Elnagar says. “I've been teaching or facilitating classes since I was a sophomore, when I taught what is now called NAU 100. Teaching that class is what jump-started this whole trajectory that I'm on now.”

After he returns from Jordan, Elnagar plans to start working in higher education or teach. He says what he’ll miss most about the university are the people he has met and worked with.

“There have been a number of amazing people at Northern Arizona University that have shared the same drive, motivation, and passion to enact transformative change in our communities," Elnagar says. “I’ve enjoyed my time here so much.”