In less than three years, Fahad Alzahrani went from brushing up his English, to teaching English to others. He was able to accomplish this because he’s organized, persistent and “questioning,” according to Jennifer Fennema-Bloom, Ed.D. , director of the Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) program.
“Fahad was an excellent student,” said Fennema-Bloom. “He set goals and pursued them. He was never afraid to question my opinions and ‘politely disagree’ when he felt strongly about something.”
With an undergraduate degree in English, Alzahrani arrived in Findlay to begin the Master of Arts in TESOL in August 2013. He didn’t come directly from his home in Saudi Arabia, however; he spent June and July at the University of Oregon’s American English Institute. He wanted to advance his English-speaking skills in order to interact more easily with his professors and fellow students.
“I feel I’m in a good position to teach in an Intensive English Language Program (IELP) because I’ve been a student of English myself,” said Alzahrani. He learned, for instance, that one of the difficult things about English for Arab-speakers is the large number of prepositions. “In Arabic there are few prepositions, so there’s a big difference.”
Alzahrani also stressed the importance of interacting with American students and participating in campus organizations to increase conversational skills.
“It’s not that difficult for a non-native English speaker to prepare a presentation and deliver it in class,” he added. “It’s another thing to interact and have conversations in English.”
As a graduate student, Alzahrani worked as a teaching assistant, the first international student at UF to do so. In that capacity, he tutored UF students in courses such as Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition. He also co-taught an undergraduate culture class and IELP’s advanced grammar class. During the fall 2015 semester he was an adjunct faculty member in the IELP program.
Having recently completed his graduate studies at UF, Alzahrani received admission into a doctoral program in applied linguistics at the University of Memphis in November. He’ll begin the program in January 2016 and plans to focus on pragmatics and discourse analysis. His sister, who accompanied him to Findlay, will move with him.
Alzahrani’s advice to other international students is to “take advantage of every opportunity that you’re offered to apply your knowledge. “ Heeding his own advice, he served as student director of the Language Club at Van Buren Elementary School (which involved scheduling eight volunteer teachers.) He was also secretary of the Saudi Student Union and helped prepare their handbook.
“I was involved in the English Language Learner (ELL) Support Center and worked as a graduate assistant and did tutoring,” he recalled.
Perhaps his favorite project while at UF was “Travel the Globe,” a one-day program for area high school students. The annual event gives UF IELP students a chance to teach their native language and for TESOL students to organize and provide leadership. It took a full week of work to prepare for the event this past year.
Looking toward the future, Alzahrani would like to work in higher education and maybe publish. He has enjoyed teaching in the United States and likes the creativity that takes place in American classrooms. As for becoming a language student again, it’s a distinct possibility.
“I’d love to learn French and Chinese,” he laughed.