Meet RELO Cairo alumnus Alaa Abbas and be inspired by how a teacher’s life can change!

Alaa Abbas in the US during his International Visitor Leadership Program in 2015

Everyone has a story to tell, and though my story is not such a marvelous one, still I have to tell it. In fact I was born to a large family — my father, my mother, six brothers and two sisters. My father was not such a rich man to afford the expenses of a big family so I decided to work while doing my study to help my father. I have worked in different places since an early age. I started my life work as an apprentice in building with my elder brother. After that, I was promoted and I worked as a builder till I finished my study in the college in 2000. In the same year I got a job as a salesman in a perfume shop during the day and during the night I worked as a receptionist. Actually, that chapter of my life was really so hard for me. I did not have enough sleep as a result of working day and night. Still I acquired accuracy and speaking skill in English due to dealing with tourists.

After finishing that difficult time of my life, I started my career as a teacher. At first, it was utterly difficult for me to adapt to that hard job. Moreover, I did not have any techniques of teaching as I was still a novice. Then, I had a chance to teach English courses in a language center for adults. Really, I did not have high self confidence, however I accepted the job insisting on getting myself improved. I started attending workshops with a great USAID program called Integrated English Language Program-II for English teachers who teach adults in language centers like me. Actually, it was a changing point in my career of teaching. I started to stand on solid ground with some new ways — not teaching randomly as I used to do before.

After that, I started working as a Ministry of Education teacher in a primary school in a rural area far from my house. It was very difficult to teach kids but I felt that my pupils loved me so much because we learned English through songs and games not the traditional ways that other teachers follow. After spending three years in teaching primary schools, I heard about a scholarship for Ministry of Education English teachers to travel to the USA to improve their levels of English and give them the chance to know the new methods of teaching — my ultimate dream! Unfortunately, it didn’t work out, but I did not give up. I started to prepare myself very well. The second chance came. At first, I hesitated so much as the effect of failure was still inside me, however I made up my mind and applied. Fortunately, I passed the test and I felt like a hero or a super star who could achieve his ultimate goal in his life.

When the time of traveling came in October 2009, it was for the UK not the USA as a kind of change happened in the Ministry of Education. I spent nine months studying in Newcastle. I gained so much experience there and my English improved to great extent. I learnt new methods of teaching that changed my life so much as a teacher. The nine months that I spent in the UK was one of the best times I spent in my life ever. On the day of departure, 22nd June 2010, I was so sad to leave as I felt that there is a big difference between life in Egypt and life in the UK. Still I was full of hope to make a kind of change in education in Egypt by applying what I learnt in the UK. Though I found many doors locked in front of me, I did not quit. I insisted on applying my experience in my classes, and I made a kind of change.

The day of my marriage was on the first of March 2012. Ten days later, the owner of the center where I was working called me asking me to travel to Cairo to make a demo to teach courses for the staff of Alahly Bank in Luxor. The organization that was responsible for that was AMIDEAST. Soon after the demo, AMIDEAST asked me to teach, not for the bank, but for the U.S. Embassy’s Access Program in Luxor. I did not know anything about that program so Mr. Emad explained everything to me. I liked the idea and I accepted to work with him. I started in June with a group of students who have made me love working with them the rest of my life. The nature of Access was completely different from teaching in schools as the course was in English — not a single word accepted in Arabic. At the start of the program it was difficult for the students to adapt. Access for me is divided into three stages. The first stage was the challenge time for me and for the students to understand a teacher who is speaking in English all the time. The second stage was the achievement time as the students started to accept the idea of learning in English and the students started to make presentations by themselves. The last stage was the stage of the future plan as the students started to think of traveling to the States to know more about the American culture and complete their study there.

With Access finally my time came too. I was selected to travel to the States on the Embassy’s International Visitor Leadership Program. I was full of joy and happiness as my past dream came to reality. We traveled on July 29, 2015 to stay there for eleven days. We went to three states: Florida, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts . Really, the period was not enough to know so much about the States, however I learned about community service, service learning, and leadership. What I like most there is that I found youth clubs play a vital role in gathering the young to teach them something useful. Also, one of the most important points that I admired is that Americans value their history to great extent and this is a key point to make them keep their country on the right track. I like the diversity there and all people live together accepting their viewpoints without having any problems. One of the days I liked best was when we had a home stay in Florida as we found that the people there were very welcoming. We also got the opportunity to pay a visit to Disneyland in Florida. Honestly, it was an awesome day. We came back to our beloved Egypt having a good amount of experience in that short time. Hopefully we’ll get back there one day.

After that I applied for the mentor training program organized by RELO and NILE TESOL, and I was lucky to be accepted. We spent a very fruitful week in Cairo with some lovely people, especially Dr. Jerry Gebhard from Hawaii who gave us much information about how to be a good mentor. I came back to Luxor full of enthusiasm to apply what I have learnt. I started arranging workshops for teachers in my city and outside. Actually, it was a very good experience as I practiced the job of being a trainer and a mentor.

Though I started my career as a baby teacher who knew very little, I grew to be an Access teacher who achieved so much with his students. I helped three of my Access students to be accepted to travel with Kennedy-Lugar YES program to the States. Last not least, I would like to say that is not the end of my story as I am full of hope and ambition and I am expecting many good things to happen in the future as life goes on.