Man of Many Talents, Loves Emporia State
When Talal Khelifi received a telephone call at his graduate student job in the James and Dorine Harter Office of International Education, informing him he had won the first-ever 1863 Scholarship Essay Contest, he let out a yell.
Well, actually several.
"To tell you the truth, I had never won anything in my life. I had played the lottery. I had taken part in events and drawings. I even took part in an event by a dishwasher type of product and didn't win. It devastated me."
But upon finding out he was a winner for his essay, says Khelifi, "I was yelling for joy. It was the best feeling."
Michelle Cunningham, a graduate student working along side Khelifi, remembers the outburst explicitly.
"I was diligently working on some study abroad paperwork the day the call came," she recalls. "He answered the phone and at first I just kept working, but after a few seconds, I thought something might be wrong. Talal's voice was slightly shaking and he became restrained and quiet like he was holding something back. I thought one of his family members had been hurt or worse."
Cunningham turned around in her chair to see Talal's face and was relieved to see a smile. The call ended and what followed was certainly pure joy, she said.
"His quivering voice disappeared and he leapt with a yell from his chair and bounced around the room screaming through laughter, 'I won! I won! I won the scholarship!'”
After a couple of minutes Khelifi sat down in his chair, but for just a second, recalls Cunningham.
"He popped right back up jumping and hopping and announcing with excitement that he had won the 1863 scholarship. Those of us in the office congratulated him over and over! We were so happy to see such a smart, talented, caring person awarded this honor."
Khelifi's essay was about how Emporia State University and the surrounding community had changed his life. But before we get to that, let's take a look at the amazing path he took on his journey to America.
Born in Annaba, a beautiful town on the Mediterranean and east of Algiers, the capital city of Algeria, Khelifi had a nice family while growing up in the city of about 260,000. His home was nestled between the shadow of green mountains and a picturesque beach.
The idyllic setting was marred by the loss of his father when Khelifi was just 15.
"My biggest support was from my mother in terms of finance and emotions," he says.
Khelifi had an outstanding grade point average in school and his mother was always encouraging him to become a doctor. So after graduating from high school he entered a medical school in Paris. After two years, deciding that a medical profession was not for him, Khelifi returned to Algeria to be a law student and later studied English Literature.
After graduation, he found work as a translator for British Petroleum (BP), using his language skills in Arabic, French, and English. It was a good-paying job and Khelifi was quickly promoted to a legal assistant manager position.
And though it was still what he calls a "good profession" Khelifi could not contain his urge to return to his studies.
"I loved literature and philosophy and I thought that I could only be complete if I succeed in having a literary career," he says.
And that is when he fully set his sights on America.
"The United States was always a dream for me in terms of academic achievements," explains Khelifi. "I love this country and I praise its educational level, its culture, and its authors."
After getting in touch with the American Embassy in Algeria, he found information about the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) job. Several interviews and tests later, he ended up winning a scholarship to teach at an American University. When he found out about Emporia State, which his information said was a safe and secure place for international students, he said yes to the scholarship program and is now working as the International Orientation and Student Arrival contact at Emporia State.
That brings us back to Khelifi's great essay win, which he explains, was written in a "simple manner from his heart" and quickly.
"I have to be honest," he admits, "I had completely forgot about it and had to write it about 45 minutes before the deadline."
The essay topic was how Emporia State and the surrounding community had changed his life and was tied in with the school's 150th Anniversary celebration that began on Feb. 15 of 2013. By then he had soaked up a lot of the Emporia and Kansas culture, even hanging out some afternoons at the Town Royal where he met what he calls, "real Emporia people, very nice people."
"American culture is the most important," continues Khelifi. "But I had some apprehension coming here at first and some of my friends and family were unsure about my trip.
"The academic aspect was never in doubt. The United States has more Nobel winners than any other country and is a leader in exploration and discovery."
His essay tells how the community and university combined everything for him.
"There is something about Emporia, that if you come here you would have some differences, some culture shock. You might not fit in right away. But my first experience of how much I loved this place is when I went away for a short period time and saw how much became extremely meaningful to me and how it can get to a person from another town, state, or country.
"It may be a small city and school, but it is large in its heart."
Out of all the experiences Khelifi wrote about, a common thread was simply his experience with the people of the community and Emporia State.
"Every single person has been extremely nice to me. They have embraced me and made me feel part of the community and school. The most important thing I would say to prospective students is: 'come now. Don't wait, don't hesitate.'
"I will give you my guarantee because I was one of the most skeptical people about Emporia State and then I fell in love with this university, the people, and the campus community. Everything is amazing. You would never regret it."
Nobody has ever written it better.