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Veteran translates military service into a career of teaching

Graduating ASU student Naji Obaid / Courtesy photo

Graduating ASU student Naji Obaid.

December 01, 2017

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

Naji Obaid describes himself as an “immigrant dreamer who fights for freedom.” A U.S. Army veteran, Obaid believes in the value of service — whether to one’s adopted country or to humanity at large.

Obaid graduates from Arizona State University this December with a master’s degree in teaching English as a second or other language (MTESOL) from the Department of English and a certificate in computer-assisted language learning (CALL) from the School of International Letters and Cultures. He plans to continue serving others, as well as bettering himself, through teaching.

“For thousands of years, people have known that the best way to understand a concept is to explain it to someone else,” Obaid said.

Obaid embodies this on a personal level. He emigrated from Iraq after the war.

“I was looking for a safe place to live and to have a glorious future, for me and for my family,” he said.

Because of his language skills, in the U.S. Army he served as a translator and trained other soldiers in techniques of translation and interpretation. He was twice awarded both the Army Commendation Medal and the Achievement Medal for “meritorious service.”

During his Army tenure, Obaid also studied at the Defense Language Institute, earning diplomas in language analysis, small group instruction, and English as a second language.

With these credentials, the MTESOL program was a natural fit. Obaid’s ASU coursework motivated him to continue developing strategies to benefit second-language learners. He excelled in his research classes, where he learned qualitative and quantitative research methods, and how to publish research results. During this time, he also presented a paper at Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association meeting, as well as organized panels at three linguistics conferences.

Obaid’s final project deals with developing academic responsiveness using a social networking site called Edmodo. He plans to apply to PhD programs in linguistics to further his study of language learning and research. He currently lives in Peoria, Arizona, and works for ASU’s Global Launch as an education specialist.

We asked Obaid a few questions about his journey and hopes for the future.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field? 

Answer: It was a great moment to start another journey in my life. I wanted to give something by teaching. I realized I could make this dream come true through getting a teaching degree at ASU. I was serving in the U.S. Army overseas when I made this decision. I was very sure that I would do great, even though I have a family to feed: wife and kids. I started work and my studies at the same time and I was blessed in both. I love both ASU and Arizona, my home after immigrating to the USA.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: The academic environment in such a great school like ASU is always going to teach you something great. I learned that helping others is a great thing to do, such as teaching international students at Global Launch. The opportunity to teach these young people who had never been exposed to U.S. culture makes me proud of myself every time I teach them. Other things to be proud of: working on a team for some school projects and interacting with professors in a professional manner. These professors are so helpful and willing to help students. All that and more has changed my perspective. Teaching is a great thing to do on this planet, and in such a great place like at ASU.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Arizona is my home state now, and I can’t imagine I could ever live in another place. After I settled here, I was looking at ASU as my primary school for my next journey because of its immersive classroom experience. I had asked around about the teachers at ASU and found that the teachers are quite knowledgeable and are very willing to help. They have office hours for you to come in and review your tests and quizzes, or just for when you have questions. They're super helpful and will do their best to ensure you are successful!

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: The best pieces of advice I can give to those still in school are to make friends with every person, never say never, you can achieve anything as long as you set your mind on it, and finally, always believe in yourself. You are what you are and nobody can change that fact. "Do good. Be good."

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I would say my favorite spot on all of campus is the library. The library is the place that I spent most of my time doing my research and working with other classmates on projects for my degree.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I am planning to teach adult students who want to learn English at the university level or at community colleges. I’m so eager to teach English because I understand how important it is to learn a second language.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I believe in education. There are some people who wish to attend school and can’t afford it; there are people who need to be helped such as people with special needs. I would start by building some schools for special needs and for people who want to learn something to benefit their lives.

Sheila Luna contributed to this profile.

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