2020 International Student Essay Contest

Article by Lin McDowell | May 20, 2021

Congratulations to ELI Graduate CAP student Norah Almousah and ELI IEP student Essa Nahari for winning the 2020 International Student Essay Contest!

The essay contest gave international students an opportunity to tell their unique stories, sharing their experiences and perspectives as international students with the larger University community. Hosted in 2020 by the Center for Global Programs and Studies in collaboration with the Division of Student Life and Graduate College, this annual contest supports the University’s ongoing mission to foster international understanding and cross-cultural awareness on campus and in the community.

For this contest, students were asked to write an essay on the topic of “Having a voice.” Although Essa and Nora tell very different stories, each of their essays uniquely expresses the essence of what having a voice means to them.

Norah Almousah 1st prizeNorah’s essay, “From Dreaming to Doing,” recounts a journey which began with her dream to study in the USA to pursue advanced degrees. Norah encountered many obstacles along the way that could have derailed her goal of achieving her dream. She was alone in the U.S. without her family to support her. Norah struggled with the English language. She had arrived in the U.S. with very basic English skills and quickly discovered that English in the United States was very different from what she had expected. The pandemic created its own set of obstacles. Remote learning was a challenge. 

I want to tell international students who are willing to learn English abroad that ELI is the best choice to study abroad and to tell them the benefits that they will get if they study there.

But the pandemic impacted Norah even more personally when all of her family at home contracted COVID-19 and she was unable to return to her home country as she had planned. Despite this, Norah was able to overcome these and other obstacles that she encountered along the way, and became a stronger and more independent woman. As she reflected in her essay, “These situations have shaped me and made me a more responsible person. I was lucky that I was surrounded by a good host family, teachers, tutors, and friends who always supported me and encouraged me to persevere.”

When asked about the inspiration for her essay, Norah explained how she initially felt uncomfortable sharing her accomplishments with others. However, students and teachers at the ELI helped her change that attitude. She reflected that “Sharing with others your achievements or experiences is a kind of guideline to help others to achieve what they want or to inspire them.” Norah added, “I want to tell international students who are willing to learn English abroad that ELI is the best choice to study abroad and to tell them the benefits that they will get if they study there.” 

Norah described her experience studying at the ELI as transformative, stating, ”These enormous changes will shape me in a great way. The ELI has given me so much, and I am happy and excited to say that I will be a member of UD next fall semester.”

Read Norah’s complete essay, “From Dreaming to Doing”.

Essa Nahari - 2nd prizeIn “The Moment I Lost My Voice,” Essa describes his experiences of the loss of having a voice, as well as the power of being heard. As a writer and a journalist, Essa had wondered, ”What if I lost the voice that represents my thoughts?” This became a reality during rehearsals for a competition: feeling terrified, he put the microphone aside and left the stage in tears. He was able to return to the stage, and this experience led him to the realization that the real challenge wasn’t to defeat others, but to, “understand and master the self until the best comes out.” As Essa continued to experience both the power of being heard and what it meant not to be heard, he ultimately discovered that, “My voice will remain audible as long as it is dedicated to speaking to and inspiring people’s hearts.”


Not only love dies when someone is unheard, but many things die in silence — dignity, culture, and self-satisfaction.


Essa was inspired to write his essay after a friend told him about his own experience of being unable to communicate with his girlfriend due to a time zone difference. Essa wished to convey in his essay that “Not only love dies when someone is unheard, but many things die in silence — dignity, culture, and self-satisfaction.”  When asked why he participated in the contest, Essa said, “The reason I participated in the essay contest was related to the topic of voice. International students can sometimes be unrepresented or forgotten despite the sacrifices they may have been forced into. Maintaining your own voice that seems different than the majority is a challenge. However, as challenges can be seeds of opportunities, international students have the potential to incorporate all voices they encounter to enrich theirs.” 

Read Essa’s complete essay, “The Moment I Lost My Voice”

Both Norah’s and Essa’s inspiring and winning essays not only reflect their many accomplishments, but are a testament to the writing skills that they practiced and refined at the University of Delaware English Language Institute (UD ELI). When asked if and how the ELI had helped them improve their writing skills, they each enthusiastically acknowledged how their experiences at ELI had positively impacted them.

Norah responded that when she first came to the ELI, it was hard for her to write one paragraph, but “The staff in the ELI helped me a lot to build the basics of English.” After winning the competition, Norah said, “I was happy to see that progress and how my English is improving.”  She credited the ELI Graduate CAP program, teachers, and tutors with helping her improve her writing skills and foster her enjoyment of reading.

Essa shared, “I started at the ELI by taking a general English course for beginners. I worked my way up to the last levels focusing on business, history, and music. I was blessed to have inspiring instructors to whom I am grateful. The ELI’s instruction did not only help me hone my English writing skills but influenced my perspective in life.” 

ELI Academic Development Specialist Leslie Connery has high praise for Norah and Essa, stating, “As their teacher for numerous sessions — it was a privilege to have been able to know them as students and as mentees. Reading their winning essays was listening to their presence as I heard their voices and read evolutions of their writings and discussions.” She continued to praise their individual accomplishments, describing Norah as, “currently shattering glass ceilings in Cyber Security/Cyber Weapons at UD: What a cheerful force of brilliance!” She described Essa as, “lighting up LinkedIn and publications with his writings. It will not be surprising to see his name listed among major literary and journalism awards in the future.”


2020 International Student Essay Contest

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