Learning by Choice: The Success Story of Obaida Bani Odeh

Obaida is from Tammoun, a village between Jenin and Nablus. She is a recent graduate from Al Quds Open University in Tubas where she studied finance and banking administration. She has been a volunteer with the After-School Academic Support program and a student in the STEP! II EFL program since October 2016. Obaida is enjoying the experience greatly and is sad she did not learn about the organization before fall 2016.


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

Learning English in the school system was not a good experience for me. In school, there were not activities throughout the class. The teaching was done in a traditional way with focus on memorization and studying. This type of learning was boring. You had to study or you wouldn’t succeed. In university, there are only 2 classes of English in my specialty because the majority of the classes are all in Arabic. I only took two basic English classes and they was not that effective.  The classes are a repetition to what I took in public school as a child. The information is not new and it is taught with the same methods that require studying without implication of activities.

What motivated you to sign up for TYO's EFL classes?

I like English and want to learn for myself in professional and personal development. Even thought positions in finance may not require English for the position, job applications require applicants be able to read and write in English. If I work in an organization in a financial position, I will definitely need to be able to use English.

I want to go visit countries in Europe, especially Italy, and English is an international language. I will be able to communicate with people in English because it is more widely spoken that Arabic. I don’t have enough vocabulary and my words were very simple, so when I want to express myself I am limited in my vocabulary. I want to expand my vocabulary knowledge so I can express myself.

I want to help my society because it is weak in English and I can help them. I want to help by teaching students English by volunteering to tutor and teach them the basics from a young age. They will have to memorize vocabulary words and I will help them learn step by step. Not everyone can afford to pay for classes, so I will tutor on a volunteer basis.

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

At TYO, the method used is in a nice way and students can learn without force. At school, it was by force in that you have to study to succeed. At TYO, it is the opposite of that. Teaching methods using play and games to help students learn doesn’t make it easier, but it is more fun. When classes are more fun, you learn in a comfortable environment and remember the information because you want to learn, not because you are stuck if you don’t study. At TYO, everyone participates in the games, no matter their personal level, and everyone has a chance to learn. In schools there was no other way of teaching except by giving the information and if students do not understand the material, they have to rely on personal study to learn. They can also hire a tutor, but not everyone can afford a tutor.

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

I was able to express myself freely without anyone stepping in and correcting my language. I felt like I was being myself and I did not have to be someone else to convey my idea. It is very nice to communicate with others in English and I feel great to be able to do that at TYO. I am so happy that I have gained new vocabulary words I did not know before and I feel more comfortable speaking in English. Before I came to class, I felt scared when I spoke English because I was worried I would use the wrong word and people would not be able to understand me. Now it is ok if I use the wrong word because I can learn from my mistakes and use the correct word next time. And the best thing is I got to meet my teacher, Leah.

Where are you now in your career trajectory? Where do you want to be in 10 years and how is this program helping you get there?

Right now, I am looking for a job. But finding a job right now isn’t my focus because I am gaining new skills through English classes and volunteering. I am postponing the job hunt until after I learn new skills. In 10 years, I see myself in a high position as a manager of a bank and with many responsibilities and not just a regular employee. I also want to get my Master’s degree in Turkey and improving my English skills will help me while during my studies. After my Master’s, I want to continue my studies and get my doctorate. English will help with both of these degrees.

What advice would you give to youth English language learners like you?

Learn a lot of vocabulary and expand your knowledge. Keep learning vocabulary because when you take English classes, you can learn how to use those words and you’ll know how to communicate with others. Learn not only to memorize English words and rules, but to use the language. Practice your English on a daily basis because if you don’t, you’ll forget how to use it. If you practice, the knowledge will stay in your mind and you’ll remember how to use it correctly.

Obaida is a student in the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) program, which is part of STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.

Interview conducted by Lindsey, the International Internship and Fellowship Coordinator, and translated by Rawan, the Women’s Empowerment Program Assistant.