Samer Makhlouf: Rising to the Challenge

Born in Nablus, Samer is a 21 year old accounting student at Al-Quds University. He worked in a clothing factory to support his education, but decided to volunteer. He believed that volunteering would assist him more in finding the right career after graduation by developing communication, leadership, teamwork skills.  He joined TYO as a volunteer with the Core program and with international interns for 2 years. In addition to continuing his education at Al-Quds, he participates in the EFL classes offered through STEP! II. Student Samer Makhlouf takes a short break from studying English to spend some time outside.

What has been your experience learning English before, in school and in university?

English was a challenge for me because it is a completely different language than Arabic and is strange. Trying to learn English in the Palestinian education system was not a successful experience at all. Our EFL classes began in the 4th grade. The language is taught by a teacher who is local and speaks Arabic. I could not understand much from the teacher. At home, there was no support for me to study. Neither of my parents were knew English and could not help me. I never hated English and always wanted to learn English, so I did my best and put forth a lot of effort to learn and do my homework. I tried harder than the other students in my class, but it was difficult because there was no support at home.

I was scared to participate in class. If I made a mistake, students would laugh and make fun of me for making a mistake. The traditional teaching style meant there was no understanding and no respect for different learning styles of learning and differences in student personalities that led to different paces of learning. Teachers avoid the students who are not good in English. They do not call on students to give an answer because they assume it will be wrong, so there is no opportunity to learn by making mistakes. Their concentration goes to the students who are good in English because it is easier to teach when the students get the answers correct.

At the university, the burden to learn English was less because the curriculum at Al-Quds is in Arabic. However, there are 4 required courses in English language. As part of the accounting program, I must take 4 and pass classes in English. I was afraid to register for those classes because I was worried I would fail. I postponed those classes until I joined the STEP! II EFL program. Since starting EFL at TYO, I registered for my first English class and passed the course! I still have 3 English classes to take before I can graduate, but I am more confident in my ability to pass the classes now.


How would you describe your experience learning English in the STEP! II program? How is it different than what you experienced before?

The teaching methods are very different at TYO than in traditional classes in the public schools and universities. The teachers at TYO use activities, games, quizzes, and more ways to share the information in a fun way that makes the environment itself more enjoyable and the information gets stuck in the students minds. The classrooms are good environments for learning. There is much more respect given to students from the teachers, even if students make mistakes. We are here to learn English, meaning that we are not perfect in our ability to use the language yet. Even if you make a mistake, you should participate in the classrooms because mistakes at TYO mean you learning something new. We are not allowed to speak in Arabic so we don’t translate in our heads. We only practice speaking in English.


What has been the greatest impact of the first few weeks of EFL classes for you?

Personally, I have gained more confidence in myself. My participation in activities has been increased. Even if there is a chance I might make a mistake, I will try anyway. I will participate in the classroom because it is a safe learning environment, the students are respected, and mistakes will be corrected in a positive way without anyone making fun of each other. I learned that I am not a bad student. I am 100% confident that English can be learned. Before, I was putting forth a lot of effort without having much success. Now I believe that the language can be learned and I will continue to learn until I am very good at English.

After taking EFL class at TYO, I am more willing to try new things. In life, I will keep trying, even if I have failed the first time. Otherwise, I will not be as successful as I could be. Before coming to EFL at TYO, I was nervous to interact with foreigners because of the language barrier. But I have been meeting foreigners more and am gaining new friends because I am not afraid to interact in English.

English is not a monster I am afraid of anymore.


What would you say to other youth your age who are interested in improving their English but nervous to get started?

I started announcing the program to fellow students at Al-Quds University because I want the program to benefit other students at my university. All students have had the same negative experience in school with learning English language. I am sharing good messages about the STEP! II EFL program. I want TYO to open EFL classes at the university to reach more students because being taught the language from English speakers through activities is totally different than how English is being taught now. Being part of a positive educational environment will help students to learn English better. I want all students to be a part of TYO EFL program.

The English as a Foreign Language (EFL) Program is part of STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.


Interview conducted by Lindsey, International Internship & Fellowship Coordinator, and translated by Futoon, Outreach Coordinator