Tamara Al-Sammarraie

Tamara Al-Sammarraie 2014

Early Childhood Education
Baghdad, Iraq

Tamara Al-Sammarraie has an intensely personal reason for going into teaching. “I never had a good experience with school,” the Bluffton senior says, “and I want to change that.”

Born in Baghdad, Iraq, the early childhood education major recalls school with no group or hands-on activities, or recess; little time to eat lunch; and walls adorned only with a photo of Saddam Hussein. “I was terrified of the teachers,” she adds, noting they were allowed to beat students."


That abuse, verbal as well as physical, continued in high school in Syria, where Al-Sammarraie and her family moved in 2004 as refugees from the Iraq War. “When we left our home (in Baghdad), we left everything,” she remembers, noting that the house was taken over by a militia group.


Syria was the cheapest place to go—but as refugees, her family couldn’t work there. They lived in a Damascus apartment with United Nations assistance for rent and some household bills.

Her father, who had retired from the Iraqi Air Force before the war for health reasons, was kidnapped in 2007 and is still missing. Her older brother, a chemical engineer, moved to Sweden, where he was later joined by his younger brother and their mother. Tamara hasn’t seen them since 2010—the same year she came to Bluffton with the help of the Iraqi Student Project, which aims to help young, displaced Iraqis acquire a college education.

While “there’s no home like your home,” she says, many people in Bluffton have been “very welcoming to me.” Jeanne and Jerry Wehri are her host family, and “I’m really close to them,” says Al-Sammarraie, who has lived on campus during the academic year but with the Wehris during breaks. Several other families have also supported her in Bluffton, as has Sister Carol Inkrott of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, who has been “like a godmother for me here.”

“I appreciate that I can sit down and talk to my professors,” she says about her campus experience, which has also come to include other activities. She has served as president of the student organization, International Connection, an alumni relations office assistant and, this year, vice president of Student Senate and a Homecoming queen.

Al-Sammarraie will be certified to teach prekindergarten through fifth grade and would like to work with first or second graders. If a teaching job isn’t forthcoming immediately, she may pursue graduate studies noting an interest in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).