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Bittersweet ending April 7, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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Egypt   Ahmed Mohamed came by this afternoon to say goodbye and sukran (thank you in Arabic). After coming here four years ago from Egypt, he was the one fellow who epitomized the diligent foreign graduate student.

At first, he was obviously alone. We spoke together often in his first months and struck up a friendship. His wife was back in Egypt and, of course, he missed her terribly. His had more advanced skills at using multimedia technology than many of our students and impressed me from the beginning. I even tried to find a job for him in the Instructional Technology Facility but I could only hire students with federal Work Study papers. He managed somehow.

In four years, I never mentally connected his name with his cell phone number whenever he called, but every time I called him back, he knew who it was and addressed me by my name immediately. His questions were usually quite challenging and ran the gamut of formatting his dissertation (it came in at a whopping 320 pages), copying and resizing images, and arranging for e-mail at home. After helping him set up web pages and a survey he presented me with a decorative plate. I think I delighted him when I recognized the profile as that of Queen Nefertiti. I have the plate in a place of honor in my office.

I am sure he yearned for home. One day, a diligent student contacted me concerned that there might have been some strange things going on in the back of the lab. The audio files I found were still a little mysterious to me so I asked Ahmed if he knew what they were. He was a little embarrassed to tell me he had put them there himself and wondered if there was a problem. He had downloaded some audio files of the Quran onto one of the machines.

A year and a half after starting here, his wife, Sara, arrived to stay with him. A year later, she gave birth to their first child. He was a proud father and, of course, his daughter’s images adorned his laptop’s desktop.

In the last weeks of this semester, I assisted him with his final presentation to his doctoral team. Of course, he knocked the defense out of the park, but I missed being able to congratulate him with a hearty mubarak. Today, in a bittersweet moment, he acknowledged the help I had given him and I tried, perhaps inadequately, to thank him for allowing me to help him. I gain so much from watching and helping students to succeed.

I think, perhaps, that feeling of helpfulness lies at the root of my reasons for being a teacher.

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