When he first arrived at Emporia State in 2011, he simply wanted to earn his degree and leave as soon as possible. But now, the institution and the people who make ESU what it is have grown on him, and he says it will be difficult to leave it all behind.
“Now that I have spent one year and half in Emporia, I am sure that I will have a very hard departure,” said Talal Khelifi, English graduate student, and first ever recipient of the 1863 Scholarship.
The award was presented to Khelifi during the Founder’s Day Luncheon Feb. 15. The criteria for the competition was to write an essay about a significant change in one’s life and what role ESU played in effecting that change. Roughly 60 eligible submissions were considered.
“As the coordinator of the judging, I myself was not one of the evaluators,” said Mel Storm, chair of the English department, in an email. “Talal’s essay stood out because of the emotional impact of the experiences he narrated, the clear sense it imparted of a life being significantly changed, and its poignant recognition of the role ESU played in that change. The prose itself was graceful and at times moving.”
Before coming to ESU, Khelifi worked as an assistant legal manager at a petroleum company in Algeria.
“I always wanted to pursue my studies despite (that fact),” Khelifi said. “I was more interested in literature and philosophy, through which we can have a better understanding of the human nature.”
Storm said he has known Khelifi since he first arrived at ESU as a Fulbright FLTA (Foreign Language Teaching Assistant) in fall 2011, and he is pleased with Khelifi’s win.
“He is a deserving young man with a unique life experience,” Storm said, “who can use the prize money to support his studies as he makes his way through school so far from home.”
The small-town environment of Emporia was a new experience, compared to Khelifi’s urban background.
“I always say that ESU chose me,” Khelifi said. “I came here as a Fulbright Scholar. My application was sent to universities across America, and Emporia State was the first to respond.”
While it is very challenging for international students to live in a foreign country, Khelifi said, he found Emporia very welcoming and hospitable, and he has made many friends over the course of his time here.
Of those friends is Gloria Swift, senior administrative specialist. She met Khelifi when he arrived in August 2011 during international student orientation.
“He is a very deserving student,” Swift said. “We are all very happy for him.”
Currently, Khelifi is pursuing his masters in English and plans to graduate in December.
“Emporia State University is my home,” Khelifi said. “It is the place of my rebirth, my confidence that was lost and my future that was found. I will graduate from here one day, but Emporia State will always stay in my heart and as a future alumnus, I am willing to honor this university and be one of its huge contributors.”