“Muhammad was a teacher. The prophets were teachers. It is also my responsibility to keep this tradition alive in my culture.”
Arabic FLTA Fidaa Owdetallah’s reflection on her career trajectory is imbued with deep cultural meaning, but she initially needed to be convinced to pursue this path. Hailing from Palestine, she dreamt of becoming an engineer while also displaying prowess in the English language at a young age. After recognizing her multilingual talent, she tapped into resources at her school that nurtured her language skills from her early years. In hindsight, her natural inclination towards English and teaching should not have come as a surprise, as this followed the paths of three of her aunts, all of whom were English majors, and one even completed a Fulbright teaching at Indiana University. As people began to take note of her talent, she hesitantly dropped her pursuit of engineering in favor of studying English.
After setting her sights on pursuing English at a higher level, Fidaa enrolled at An-Najah National University to obtain a Bachelor's degree in English Language and Literature. With a desire to further her career and education, Fidaa earned her next degree in education and teaching. She continued her academic journey, returning to the same university for a Master's degree, specializing in teaching English as a foreign language. As her academic pursuits continued, she worked as an English teacher with school students. Afterward, she embarked on a mission to establish an education center in Palestine, aimed at helping individuals acquire English language skills. Currently, Fidaa is enrolled in a PhD program in Malaysia focused on English language education.
Now at Notre Dame, Fidaa is teaching Arabic I, II, and III, as well as taking classes on digital literacy and language teaching methods. In addition, she has been engaging with the South Bend community, volunteering at Nunar Elementary School with other FLTAs, supporting FLTA cultural and language events, and trying to participate in any other event on campus that catches her eye. In preparation for her first visit to the United States, Fidaa studied iconic American literature as a means to catch glimpses of authentic American culture, and having the chance to experience it and achieve full English immersion has been an amazing opportunity.
Balancing the challenges of culture shock, missing home, and starting a new journey abroad can be extremely difficult, but Fidaa's determination and dedication continue to drive her forward. Her passion for teaching extends beyond the classroom, as she believes that being an educator allows her to witness her students' achievements and contribute to their progress. Teaching, for Fidaa, is not just a job but a moral responsibility to uphold the tradition of education and make a real-world impact. She recalled the wise words of King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, who said “If I were not a king, I would be a teacher”. This sense of duty is palpable in the way that Fidaa speaks about her educational journey and current role as a teacher, as she feels that the progress she sees her students make is also her own.
It was not shocking given her past that Fidaa lauded the act of learning a new language. She said that language plays a critical role in any culture, and understanding that language is the first step in learning about new cultures and understanding them. Her love for English, strengthened by her ability to engage with American culture because of her bilingualism, and teaching has not only provided her with a career but has also opened doors to new experiences. Language learning can have as big an effect on your life as you choose - for Fidaa, this means pursuing a PhD and using English education to lift her community, but for others, this could be something as simple as traveling to new parts of the world or making friends across cultural boundaries.
When reflecting on her long educational journey, Fidaa was honest about the dedication required to learn a new language to proficiency. She advises that language learning hopefuls begin as early as they can, and consistency over months and years is crucial to seeing success. Despite the many hurdles that can arise in learning a new language, anything is possible through enough dedication and perseverance.
About the CSLC
The Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures (CSLC) aims to support language learners at ND by facilitating meaningful experiences with linguistic acquisition and exchange - both in our campus community and abroad. We believe that access to the world's languages and cultures allows us to seek out new perspectives, to value the diversity of the world's cultures, and to embody global citizenship.