The daughter of Palestinian immigrants, Hannan Hawari MA ’17 (TESOL) grew up speaking Arabic, was placed in an English as a Second Language (ESL) classroom at an early age, and received early lessons about the importance of how not knowing a language can be a barrier to opportunity.
“I felt that barrier when I was younger and when I was growing up,” she says. “A lot of times, when I was with my mom, she wouldn’t have the right words to negotiate something on the phone, or ask about something at the store. It seemed like language was a very powerful tool.”
Today, she’s helping international students in Sacramento State’s English Language Institute (ELI) overcome that barrier, serving as an instructor and teaching American Language and Culture. ELI, run through Sacramento State’s College of Continuing Education, offers several programs throughout the year to help international students become stronger English speakers and learn about American culture to prepare them for study at a four-year college or university in the United States – often Sacramento State. Hawari also has spent time leading ELI’s Conversation Clubs, weekly meet-ups where ELI students can practice their language skills with Sac State students.
“Language is very powerful,” she says. “I feel like I’m giving them another tool. A powerful tool.”
Hawari grew up loving reading, writing, and school. A Stockton native, she earned her undergraduate degree in English literature at nearby University of the Pacific before enrolling at Sacramento State for her master’s in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) – combining her lifelong passion for learning with her first-hand knowledge of the power of language.
She came to Sacramento State for the same reason many others do: access and opportunity. The University was nearby, affordable, and allowed her the flexibility to continue working. Plus, her brother already was at Sac State as an undergraduate. But the campus quickly became much more than a place to get a degree.
“I felt like (Sac State) was the place where I truly grew. There are a lot of services for students as well as a strong, inclusive community,” Hawari says. “It seemed to be a very diverse campus. There were a lot of people I felt were like me, who had the same struggle, and were first-generation college students. There seemed to be a real acceptance of that on this campus and it felt like a good environment to be in.”
Working at the University Writing Center and as an instructor for a first-year composition course provided her with real-world experience tutoring and teaching. She also worked off campus at a private learning center in Stockton and as an intern with ELI, where she also volunteered with Conversation Club.
“That was a wonderful program that helped me build my knowledge of how to teach ESL speaking and listening skills,” Hawari says. “It gave me valuable practice in classroom management and standing in front of the class.”
She ultimately was hired to teach summer courses with ELI and hopes to continue in the fall. Longer term, she plans to continue working with adult ESL students, perhaps at the K-12 level, or perhaps even abroad: Her bigger goal is to return to her parents’ home, Palestine, to teach English.
In the meantime, Hawari is cherishing the opportunity to share both her experience with the power of language and her passion for teaching and learning with students from across the globe.
“I feel like I’m a part of them because I’m kind of that in between where I’m not really American, I’m not really Arab,” she says. “I understand the struggle of coming to a different place and having to feel like a foreigner. They have their own culture and they’re excited to share it, but at the same time they’re excited to learn so much more about American culture. I just love the idea of teaching and being part of their language experience.”