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Global Citizens: “I Had to Be Creative

As a teenager, Noureddine El Alam, new Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, said goodbye to his family in Morocco and landed in New York City with only 600 dollars in his pocket and unable to speak English. Now, people who meet El Alam would be surprised to learn that English is not his first language.

“When I came to America, I couldn’t speak [English]… But I spoke to strangers. I spoke to the homeless. I spoke with anybody who was willing to talk. If I’d stayed in my little bubble and was reserved, I would have stayed that way,” said El Alam.

Tyson Thomas ’19, a student of El Alam, said, “He always makes sure to add humor to his teachings. Mr. El Alam always teaches us the easiest way or method needed in order to solve the problem. If anyone in the class gets confused, he becomes the king of analogies, hoping that we can better understand what he’s saying, if we look at it from a different perspective.”

Growing up, El Alam spoke French and Arabic in Morocco, a country in North Africa that borders the Mediterranean Sea. There, he lived with his six siblings, his mother, and his father, a professor of Arabic literature.

“[Morocco is] a lovely place. You get all of the climates. It’s very much like California, actually, in terms of size and population. The scenery is just beautiful. There’s a lot of history, culture, architecture, and the food is just top notch,” said El Alam.

Despite his parents’ protests, El Alam left for the U.S. to begin his studies at City College on a student visa. While he had made money playing soccer back in Morocco, El Alam needed to find sources of income upon arriving in the U.S. Despite the restrictions of his student visa, El Alam worked various jobs to pay his expenses, including one at the United Nations as a translator.

“I did a lot of odd jobs, and they pay you in cash. I was young, so I’d wait tables, I’d host, [and] I worked as a lifeguard. The school allowed you to work up to 12 hours a week, so I took advantage of that as well. I did a lot of tutoring at school. I probably did 20 jobs in a period of five years as I was doing my undergraduate studies in the city. It was difficult at times, and I had no support system, so I had to be creative,” said El Alam.

After graduating college, El Alam fostered his love for teaching, serving as a teacher at Northfield Mount Hermon for six years. There, El Alam met his wife, Laura, and had two children.

El Alam and his family moved to California in 2000 and lived there for 17 years, where El Alam taught and coached soccer at Sage Hill School and Pacific Ridge School. This year, El Alam has returned to New England to teach math and coach Girls Varsity Soccer.

“I’ve found people here to be extremely warm and supportive and nice. The community is strong, and students are awesome. I coach Girls Varsity Soccer here, and it’s just an amazing team. It’s like my second family. I know them so well — it’s as if I met them years ago,” said El Alam.

“Whenever I arrive at practice or see him on the paths, he has this huge smile and goes ‘Maddy!’ and asks me about my day. In practice, he’s always willing to take me aside… if I ask or if he notices I need the work,” said Maddy Silveira ’20, a member of Girls Varsity Soccer. “He always wears his cleats so he can play with us, and he often jumps in on scrimmages when we need an extra player.”

In the future, El Alam hopes to teach multidisciplinary courses in order to expand upon his math background in other areas of learning.

“I might work with the History Department and teach Islamic Studies, or maybe partner with the Religion and Philosophy departments and teach logic. And obviously, finance spans many disciplines like law, policy, math, and statistics as well. I just started, so I’m speaking with a lot of people because I’m very interested in teaching statistics that is service-learning based,” said El Alam.

Oct 27, 2017