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Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement.
Seham Abdulhameed Tomihi wasn’t giving up. She first came to the U.S. to study English and was now absolutely set on teaching it.
She discovered the Master of Teaching English as a Second or Other Language (MTESOL) degree in Arizona State University’s Department of English and believed it was right for her.
But “when I applied for the first time, I was rejected,” Tomihi said. “Three of my friends applied with me at the same time, and all of us were rejected. My friends then applied for different programs, and they got admitted.”
Undeterred, Tomihi stayed the course — several times over. She applied for ASU’s MTESOL program more than four times before she was eventually admitted. “I loved teaching, and it became a personal challenge,” she said, “difficult, but not impossible. My goal was to be admitted in the MTESOL program, and I worked hard and did my best and finally the dream came true.”
Tomihi, originally from Jeddah city, Saudi Arabia, is particularly invested in teaching English because of its status as an “international language.” She believes learning English can enhance people’s lives — especially women’s — no matter where they live.
Toward that end, Tomihi spent her MTESOL internship creating curriculum materials aimed at helping Saudi Arabian women improve their business and professional English skills. The Department of English’s director of internships Ruby Macksoud, who has mentored Tomihi, has just three words to say about her: “She's beyond awesome.”
Since 2015, Tomihi has also been president of Women on the Move, an ASU student club for Saudi women. In addition to offering support and empowerment, the organization helps build cultural awareness between Saudis and other members of the university community. Tomihi and her efforts to encourage goodwill via Women on the Move were featured in a 2016 Chronicle of Higher Education article, “Muslim Ambassadors on an American Campus.”
Leadership and community organizing aside, it’s teaching that is in Tomihi’s heart. She feels gratified to be earning her MTESOL degree and to be moving on to the next step. “I am so proud of myself,” Tomihi admitted.
But she’s equally humble, pointing to the tremendous encouragement she has received on her journey. “I am so thankful for my dad, my mom, sisters and brothers for their support. They helped me a lot, and they pushed me to come to the U.S. and continue my education. I am so lucky being part of this great family.”
She added: “I want to say thanks a lot to my husband for his support, too.”
We caught up with Tomihi to ask a few more questions about how she nurtured her love for teaching and what she will do after graduation.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?
Answer: I like to help others in general; for me, teaching is the best job in the world. I feel that the teacher is the candle who lights up the way of knowledge. I have loved teaching since I was 10 years old. When I came to the U.S., I liked teaching more, because the methods that ASU teachers used were interesting. I felt that I should apply to the MTESOL program and learn more about it.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: Respect for diversity and fair treatment changed my perspective. I am covering my face, so I thought that it would be so difficult for me in classes to communicate with others. But I love how teachers and even my colleagues respect me. There is no racism at ASU in general.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: Because ASU is one of the best universities and teachers are so helpful.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Drawing on my experience, I would give this advice: 1) If you have a dream, work hard, do your best and insist on achieving it. 2) Trust your abilities. 3) Ignore all the external circumstances that may hinder you from achieving your goals or successes. 4) Take advantage of opportunities because maybe they will not come back again.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: My favorite spot is on the second floor of the Memorial Union. There is a quiet area there where I spent most of my time studying, praying and meeting friends. For the Women on the Move club’s meetings, we usually reserved a room in Hayden Library.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I will get married after graduation directly. Then I will apply for jobs, and via this job I will apply for the PhD degree.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I believe in education. I would love to build schools for refugees that meet all their educational needs. Refugees suffer a lot from war, and they often feel that they are unwelcome or strangers. Building schools for those people and teaching them English, which is an international language, will help them to get the best opportunities anywhere. And it is a kind of appreciation for them as part of society.