VALPARAISO | When Mohammed Abed came to the United States from Iraq last August, he said the landscape was so different, he thought at first he must be on a different planet.
As one of several students who will study at Valparaiso University this fall in the Iraq Education Initiative, Abed will study in order to help restore Iraq's educational system and prepare for a leadership role in helping to rebuild his homeland.
"I will study English and after that I will study for a master's degree in international law. I love this country. I will talk with my government and would like to work the Iraq embassy in Washington D.C.," Abed said.
Julie Maddox, director of study abroad programs at Valparaiso University, traveled to Baghdad last year to help lay some of the groundwork for this initiative.
"This program was established by Iraqi education professionals and citizens and it was their idea to help rebuild their country, recognizing that in the short term they would need some assistance," Maddox said.
"Their education system wasn't invested in under the dictatorship, so they wanted to send students to America, England, Australia, to have them study and bring back what they've learned," she added.
The program, still in its pilot stage, began this summer and universities such as Valparaiso University have been working with the U.S. embassy and partners in Baghdad to enroll Iraqi students in the U.S.
Maddox said that she hopes Valparaiso University will enroll five more students this month, but that depends upon the visa process and security clearances.
For Abed, the hope is to build himself to rebuild his country.
"We want Iraq to return to a good education because the conditions improve and build day by day," he said.
For Maddox, the benefits are endless.
"It's a wonderful opportunity. Whether it's Iraqi students, or students from all over the world, it gives our community a chance to learn about other cultures. And for these Iraqi students, they will come back to Iraq and teach about who we really are as Americans, not just what they see on their media," she said.