The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Karim Hamdy Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

October 10, 2014


“'The Persistent Arab': Working to Broaden Horizons at OSU”  October 10, 2014  Location: Valley Library, Oregon State University.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, Hamdy recounts his upbringing in humble circumstances, stories of Tunisian independence, and changes in the culture of Tunisia that came about as a result of independence. From there he notes his family's strong emphasis on education and his own success in school, before turning his attention to his college experience at Université de Tunis.

As he recalls his undergraduate and graduate years at Tunis, Hamdy remarks on his adjustment to both a city and a collegiate environment, his contributions to forming a student government, the progression of his engineering studies, and the differences that he observed between the Tunisian and the U.S. systems of higher education.

Hamdy's professional career is the next subject of the interview, and in this he discusses his private sector work for a Danish firm, his early travel outside of Tunisia - including a trip to the U.S.S.R. - and the development of his interest in languages.

A major focus of the session is Hamdy's experience of living and working in the United States. He describes his decision to move to Oregon to pursue a Ph.D., the relatively large Tunisian community that existed then at OSU, and his own efforts in helping to form multiple North African student groups on campus. He notes the progression of his doctoral studies and recounts the ways in which his interests shifted from engineering to languages. He also speaks of important OSU colleagues - including Laura Rice, who would become his wife - as well as the student activist community during the 1980s, his sense of Muslim religious culture in Corvallis, and his research in linguistics while a student at Oregon State. The interview then shifts to Hamdy's return to Tunisia for a home stay period, which included three months studying in France, a variety of jobs, and his marriage to Laura Rice.

The session rounds out with Hamdy's thoughts on his activities since returning to Corvallis in 1995. He discusses his efforts to increase computer literacy among Tunisians, his teaching of Arabic and French at OSU, and his co-founding of the university's Tunisia Study Abroad program in 2002. In reflecting on the program, Hamdy notes the impact of geopolitics on its development and recalls a few standout memories from its history. The interview concludes with Hamdy's thoughts on the environment faced today by international students at OSU, his work with INTO-OSU, and his sense of OSU's current direction, including a need to boost support for the humanities.