Arabic instructor spreads acceptance

Mervat Odeh can single-handedly write, photograph, print and distribute a newspaper in the midst of chaos.

“[In Palestine] it was a really hot war zone,” the Arabic instructor said. “Some days there would be no power, but we would still have to publish. We would literally hand the paper to people; we were doing everything.”

Odeh said she takes her experiences and applies them to her work now as an instructor.

“I let my students see what I teach, and then I encourage them to see it from different aspects,” she said. “When you’re in investigative journalism, you have to see the story from different ways. I want my students to know I am not their only source.”

Odeh grew up in Palestine, which she said was “nice, but hard.”

“Living there, you have to not give up, because every day is a hard day,” she said. “You don’t know if you’re going to make it to tomorrow or if you’ll ever see your friends again. Home has a different definition there than a roof over your head.”

Odeh also starred in a movie and a play in Palestine.

“The movie was a love story,” she said. “Everyone was doing movies about the war, and we wanted to get away from that. I enjoyed it.”

After graduating from college and graduate school in Palestine, Odeh decided to pursue a second master’s degree at the university, uprooting herself from Palestine to Evansville.

“School here changed how I think of the world,” she said. “Everything around the world is our business.”

Odeh said she teaches that concept to all of her students.

“I like to teach my students that nothing should be called weird,” she said. “We should learn our differences and celebrate them regardless of who we are.”

Currently, Odeh is proposing the creation of a new class, “Introduction to Arab Cultures,” for next semester.

“I’ll be teaching it in English, which will open up the culture for more people who are interested in learning,” she said.

Odeh said she loves seeing the growth in her students as they learn about her and other Arab cultures.

“I see students graduate, and that’s how I feel like students can change the world,” she said. “The light at the end of the tunnel really does exist. You can make people care about things they never cared about before.”

Jake Fayed, a junior psychology major, said he could see himself moving to the Middle East and pursuing a life within the Arab community.

“[Taking Arabic classes with Odeh] has impacted me because it’s such a unique language,” he said. “I’ve been able to meet students on campus and speak Arabic with them.”

Fayed has taken Arabic with Odeh for four semesters.

“She’s not only the nicest teacher I’ve had,” he said. “She’s one of the most sincere people I’ve ever met. She really does care a lot about her students.”

Fayed said Odeh, with all her experience and her caring teaching style, is a role model.

“She forgets about herself and thinks of others,” he said. “She’s inspiring.”