Anwar Accawi said he thinks he was meant to be a teacher. He’s been at it for more than 35 years, most of which have been spent at UT Knoxville’s English Language Institute (ELI).
"There’s no better job than working with intelligent, motivated, international students," he says. "Every eight weeks I get to work with a new set of beautiful kids from all over the world. It’s a job I love, and I get paid for it."
Courses at the ELI, such as grammar and American government, help those wishing to better understand American culture and improve their English skills for school or work.
Born and raised in Lebanon, Accawi’s native tongue is Arabic. He picked up English from his father, an interpreter in the British army during WWII. He attended an American missionary school in Sidon.
Accawi began teaching English as a second language fresh out of high school to Lebanese third-graders, while taking summer classes in elementary education.
He received a scholarship to attend college in America and earned his bachelor’s degree through a work-study program at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.
After graduating, he returned to Lebanon—with his new wife, Gwen, a native Tennessean—to pursue a graduate degree at the American University of Beirut (AUB).
Accawi was teaching at AUB in 1975 when Lebanon’s civil war erupted and the American Embassy urged him to return to the United States with his wife and two young children.
"I wrapped up my graduate work in 1974," Accawi says. "A year later the country went berserk. The embassy began telling us all to leave. We left with only the clothes on our backs. We lost touch with everyone."
Accawi settled his family in La Follette, Tenn., near his in-laws.
He worked odd jobs around town for nearly two years before his wife encouraged him to seek a job in UT Knoxville’s English department.
"I knew teaching was what I was supposed to do, but I wasn’t doing it," he says. "That just didn’t feel right."
Accawi stopped by UT’s English department, and was told there were no openings. He also was told that the university had a new English Language Institute, which might be interested in him.
"I was told to ask for the dean at the front office of the ELI. Everyone was at lunch so I sat and waited. I was very pleasantly shocked to see a familiar face."
Dale Myers, an American who Accawi had worked for in Beirut, was running the ELI.
"This was a person I worked with on the other side of the world," he says. "Dale couldn’t believe his eyes, and neither could I." A professor had just left the ELI, and Accawi was hired on a part-time basis right away. He was made full-time two years later, and has been there ever since.
"Twenty-four hours after deciding to return to teaching, I had a position," Accawi says, "working with someone I’d lost touch with. I was given the opportunity to work with Dale for another 20 years before he retired."
Anwar Accawi lives in Knoxville with his wife, Gwen. When not spending time with his six grandchildren, he writes about his experiences growing up in a remote Lebanese village. His published works include The Boy from the Tower of the Moon (Beacon Press, 1999) and This I Prayed (in New Millennium Writings, 2007-2008).