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Origin Stories: Students Share Defining Moments That Shaped Their Lives

Mariem Bchir
Mariem Bchir '20 (Tim Cowie photo)

The moments that define us–sometimes abrupt, sometimes devastating, sometimes unexpected and wonderful–also define our community. The life experiences and cultural heritage of our students enrich our campus, and challenge and change the way we see the world.

We invited students to share their origin stories and the moments that have helped define who they are and where they are going. All of the students offer perspectives shaped by circumstance and unbound by place.

Mariem Bchir '20

Born in Tunis, Tunisia

In March 2015, I was admitted to Davidson College. The college allowed me to take a gap year, so I could continue to work on a teacher training program I'd developed as a student at the African Leadership Academy (ALA). I interned with the impact measurement department at Education For Employment, a Tunisian non-profit that provides soft skills training, and then I worked in Slovakia at the LEAF Academy in the context of reviewing and editing their Entrepreneurial Leadership program and helping with admissions campaigns in neighboring countries. Then I went to Mauritius, a small island in eastern Africa, where I worked in the African Leadership University helping design and review an English language course for students. The third day after I arrived at Davidson, I broke my hand playing capture the flag. I came here as a 21-year-old freshman, and I was a little apprehensive about that, but I received a lot of support when I got here, and breaking my hand allowed me to meet a lot of amazing people.

Defining Moment

Before I left Tunisia to attend the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, I had some very terrible experiences in school, along with the positive experiences. I grew up as an introvert who enjoyed her reading bubble. Because I was that introverted girl, those experiences made me afraid of my teachers. My father enrolled me in Tae Kwon Do classes when I was 10 or 11, which gave me a lot of confidence. But those experiences stayed in my mind–and I've always had issues with the educational system in Tunisia, not just teachers. The year I woke up I was 16–it was the year of the revolution. At that time, I had two teachers–one was an Arabic classics literature teacher, and one was an English teacher... I noticed that the young English teacher was teaching a popular language and could not get anyone to come to class–she was great in that she mastered the language. Everyone showed up for the Arabic teacher, who was near retirement, creating a gap in our age and a gap in interest in the subject. So I thought, okay, what's the difference? It was his art of teaching and the relationships he built even with the most difficult students, and it clicked in my mind that there's something there to explore... yes the curriculum is not amazing, yes the environment is not the best, but still this teacher, despite all these conditions, could make them appreciate and engage with the material and the subject he's teaching. That was the thing that sparked my interest. I don't want the younger generations to go to a class where they feel afraid of teachers or where they go out of fear and not out of love of learning. I also want teachers to feel empowered and enjoy their role in society, which would eventually affect students positively.

Bchir is a Belk Scholar pursuing a computer science major and educational studies minor. After Davidson, she plans to return to Tunisia to open a teacher training institute.

For more stories like Bchir's, visit the Davidson Journal Online.

Lisa Patterson

John Syme