By Sherry DiBari

ODUOnline International and Old Dominion University's English Language Center (ELC) have established a partnership with Cihan University Sulaimaniyah, a private undergraduate university in the semi-autonomous Kurdish Region of Iraq (KRI).

Five students from Cihan University are enrolled in a conversational English class offered through the ELC.

"We have built a wonderful friendship with these Iraqi citizens," said Mitsue Shiokawa, director of ODUOnline International.

The second phase of the program begins in spring 2021 when eight students, mid-level professionals who hope to complete their graduate degrees at ODU, will enroll in the ELC's Monarch English Transition (MET) program.

MET is an intensive program designed to help students pass ODU's English proficiency requirement. Until now, the program has only been offered in person.

Laura Ray, assistant director of the ELC, believes offering MET remotely will "increase (ODU's) visibility and impact as an institution of higher education around the world."

The partnership also would offer students an opportunity to earn their master's degrees at ODU in a hybrid format. Students would spend one year in Iraq and the following year in person at ODU.

"ODUOnline International serves as a pathway to get them here," Shiokawa said.

Other long-term goals include the establishment of an ODU-branded micro-campus in Sulaimaniyah. The space would provide a working and recruiting area as well as dependable electricity and internet connection for test taking.

The universities signed a five-year international memo of understanding in March 2019 for the "promotion of educational and academic exchanges between the two institutions."

For Shiokawa, the partnership is more than an educational agreement.

"It's not just about enrollment," Shiokawa said, "It's like-minded people, passionate about education, getting together in the same room."

This type of online programming will allow students to overcome challenges related to international student mobility by "bringing our campus to them," Ray added.

The impetus and network connections behind the partnership came from Aras Syahmanssuri, a doctoral student and graduate assistant at ODUOnline International.

For Syahmanssuri, the connection was personal.

"I am a Kurd. My nation has suffered from many economic, military and political interventions," Syahmanssuri said. "I want to devote some of my time to my nation to help people who have suffered, at least to make them forget what happened in their past. If not for themselves, at least for their children."

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