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UC Admissions Rep Shares Experience at College Fair In Iraq

Nazanin Tork represented UC at the EducationUSA University Fair in Erbil, Iraq, which took place Oct. 13-15.

Date: 10/19/2011
By: Nazanin Tork
Photos By: Provided
UC International Admissions

Nazanin Tork is a graduate admissions officer with UC International Admissions. She has just returned to Cincinnati after representing UC at EducationUSA University Fair in Erbil, Iraq.

Nazanin Tork, right, with event volunteer Helene Ali-Sairany

More than 1,000 Iraqi students travelled from miles around to begin their long-awaited dreams of pursuing their graduate education in the United States. Representing the University of Cincinnati as the international graduate admissions officer, I had the unique opportunity of attending the First EducationUSA University Fair in Iraq.

The three day event, sponsored by the US Embassy Baghdad and implemented by the Institute for International Education (IIE) and EducationUSA, took place in the city of Erbil, located in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. With only two months time for planning and advertising, the fair had 22 U.S. institutions of higher education participate and over 1,000 Iraqi students attend from as far as Basrah, Najaf, Baghdad, Karbala, Sulaymaniyah and Mosul.

The University of Cincinnati took part in the event as one of the partner universities with the Higher Committee for Education Development (HCED), a scholarship program funded by the Iraqi Prime Minister’s office. HCED, along with the Human Capacity Development Program of the Kurdistan Regional Government (HCDP-KRG) and the Government of Iraq Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research Program (GOI MoHESR), are awarding top-ranked Iraqi students with fully-funded study abroad scholarships for master’s and doctoral degrees.

It is important to mention that Iraq was the first country in the Middle East/North Africa region to award study abroad scholarships to students, dating back from the 1930s until the late 70s, when due to war, the programs were forced to end. However, this new opportunity is more than just about attaining a U.S. graduate degree for the men and women of Iraq; it is providing a valuable interchange of knowledge and culture between the next generation of Iraqi leaders and the people of the United States.

Nazanin Tork, center, with a scholarship student's family.

For two days, we stood by our booths and met with students eager to learn about applying to our schools and about student life in the U.S. There were students who had medical and law degrees, businessmen, teachers, nurses, botanists and linguists.

Many students spoke English as a fluent third language while others needed translators. There were married couples looking for the best pharmacy programs, young ladies eager to learn about the English literature departments and groups of men, friends since secondary school, looking for programs in geography and political science.

It became apparent to me that these scholarship programs are not just sending students to study the popular engineering and business programs. Instead, students are being awarded scholarships for all fields of study necessary to rebuild a nation, once the “cradle of civilization.”

The U.S. representatives also had the prestigious honor of meeting with officials from the governments of Iraq and Kurdistan. In attendance were the Speaker of Parliament of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Dr. Kamal Kirkuki, Consul General of the U.S. Consulate, Alexander Laskaris, Director General of KRG Scholarships, Dr. Govand Sherwani, and from the Government of Iraq Ministry of Higher Education, Dr. Ali Alsaffar. The same evening, we were invited to the new American Cultural Center, The Eagleton House, at the American Consulate Compound where we were greeted by Prime Minister Barham Salih, of the Kurdistan Regional Government. There were cameramen from a dozen news stations broadcasting the grand opening of the cultural center as well as the forging of relationships between U.S. schools and the Iraqi and KRG scholarship programs.

By the end of the first day, a picture was clearly painted of the future Iraq the officials envisioned as well as the steps necessary to get there. As the speaker of parliament stated “The revival and development of nations must begin by education and with education…but it doesn’t end there”. There is a mutual understanding among the country’s current leaders and citizens that highly educated Iraqis are the backbone of the construction and modernization programs of the country. The emerging relationships between the U.S. and Iraqi educational institutions will facilitate the long and arduous work that lies ahead.

With Murray State University rep. Aryo Hasnugung

Seeing and listening to the officials throughout the three days was a testament to the importance of education as well as the positive development of the youth in Iraq. These students are going to play a significant role in the revitalization of Iraq, both politically and academically, and our country’s responsibility should be to ease the visa and immigration process for these students coming to the U.S. If it is our government’s mission to assist the people of Iraq with restoring their nation, then we must build bridges and not barriers.

For someone who has never been to the region or the country, it was a pleasant surprise. The people of Iraq were most hospitable and friendly. Erbil is a quiet city, full of charm and history, which I hope to visit again. There is great hope that the trickle of Iraqi students coming to the U.S. will turn into a steady stream at our institutions of education and research. This stream will help restore the intellect, confidence and passion to a nation once isolated and tyrannized for decades.

In a way, you could say that history was in the making that weekend in Erbil, for both the Iraqis and the Americans.

UC International Admissions