Mohammed Al-Hadhrami’s family is building a Bears tradition. Two of his nephews are the first-ever second-generation students to enter Missouri State’s English Language Institute, or ELI.
“We were debating where in the U.S. to take these guys to learn English and go to school,” Al-Hadhrami said.
“We did some research into other schools. But I said, ‘We know this place, and it’s great. Why go anywhere else?’”
Al-Hadhrami and his brother-in-law Ahmed Al-Akwa arrived at MSU in 1998 from Yemen.
“We came with basically no English.” His brother Samir Al-Hadhrami and another brother-in-law, Ibrahim Al-Akwa, were already studying at the ELI. “They told us it’s a great place.”
He entered the intensive program. Within three months, Al-Hadhrami had his first dream in English. After six months, he was proficient enough to pick up on some differences between regional dialects.
He entered classes at Missouri State, and earned a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems in 2002.
Becoming a rising diplomat at his embassy
Al Hadhrami had been in MSU’s accelerated MBA program.
But ties between the U.S. and the Middle East were strained in the first years following 9/11. It was hard to get student visas, and Al-Hadhrami did not get approval to continue his studies.
Instead, he worked at a Yemeni embassy. He used his computer-programming skills to help develop a passport system.
That job ignited an interest in diplomacy. He passed an exam that allowed him to enter the foreign service. His first foreign post started in 2008, at the United Nations in New York.
In 2010, he earned a master’s degree in international relations and diplomacy from Fairleigh Dickinson University — a school with deep ties to the United Nations.
After that first post, he went home to Yemen.
Soon after, he received a scholarship to the Korea Development Institute, a research and policy think-tank in Seoul.
He earned a second master’s degree there in 2014, this one in development policy.
He was next sent back to the U.S., this time to the embassy of the Republic of Yemen in Washington, D.C.
The embassy shares info about Yemen’s government, economy, history and culture. It also advocates for its country’s point of view on legislation and policies.
Al-Hadhrami started in the political office. In 2018, he was named deputy chief of mission. That job is usually known as the number-two diplomat assigned to an embassy, behind the ambassador.
He’s posted in D.C. until 2020.
Yemen is in a civil war and is on the United States’ “travel ban” list, so he hopes his work can create a better future for his country.
“Any signals sent from the United States affect us locally and regionally.”
ELI: “We want them to feel like they’re at home”
On June 6, Al-Hadhrami toured the ELI’s downtown home and served as a translator for his nephews. It was their first day in Missouri.
His nephews are Yoseph Al-Hadhrami, son of Mohammed’s brother Samir, and Mohamed Al-Akwa, son of Mohammed’s sister Samira and her husband, MSU attendee Ibrahim Al-Akwa.
The young men had traveled 17 hours to the U.S. that week. They visited Al-Hadhrami in D.C. before coming to the Ozarks.
Yoseph wants to earn a business degree, then possibly join a family company. Mohamed wants to study information technology. His dream is to work at Apple Inc.
They both said they will miss their large extended family.
Dr. Jane Robison, ELI’s executive director, wants to help them combat that homesickness.
“I was so excited when I saw your names on our admission lists,” she told them, since she remembered their relatives.
She told them that ELI extends beyond language lessons. The cousins will also learn about culture, and may attend social and community events.
“We want them to feel like they’re at home and make life a bit easier for them,” Robison said.
Al-Hadhrami said his family is confident the students are in good hands.
“Just sitting here evokes some nostalgic memories of a time long-gone but never forgotten. This week, when I was walking around, I was like, ‘we ate here, and we stayed here and we were with a roommate here…’ I have these memories, which I hope in a few years they will have.”
“We really enjoyed our time here”
Of the four family members who were at Missouri State in the 1990s, Ahmed Al-Akwa, Mohammed Al-Hadhrami and Samir Al-Hadhrami all graduated from the university.
Both the Al-Hadhrami brothers were involved in local groups related to Islam. Mohammed Al-Hadhrami was the president of the Muslim Student Association on 9/11.
“After the terrorist attacks, our events were packed. People were interested to know the real Islam as opposed to the terrorist organization’s hijacking of the ideas. The community was more supportive to us as opposed to other places that we heard about in the news, so we were really grateful to be here.”
Samir left his mark on the Ozarks community as well: He helped establish the Islamic Center in Springfield. Before the war, Samir had his own business. He provided services to oil companies. Now, he works in humanitarian efforts.
Both brothers have children, and continue to build their lives despite the conflict in their home country.
Al-Hadhrami even said more family members could come through ELI.
“We really enjoyed our time here,” he told Robison.
“Well, I’m very proud of you,” she replied.
“Thank you very much,” Mohammed Al-Hadhrami said.
“We owe it to you.”
About the English Language Institute (ELI)
- English training for international students who will enter a U.S. school after taking ELI courses.
- Programs for educators who teach English as a second language or English as a foreign language.
- Short-term programs for adults and youths.
- ELI students enroll in intensive eight-week sessions based around grammar, reading, listening, writing and speaking. They move through different levels as their skills increase.
ELI started in 1996 with five students.