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From student to professor: Palestinian Tayh came to the US for education
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Photo: John Greenwood
Professor Jamal Tayh, of Palestine, is at the Mosque on Kimberly Road in Bettendorf.
BETTENDORF -- When he came to the U.S. from Palestine in late 1985, Jamal Tayh had $40 in his pocket and problems speaking English.

''The language was the biggest struggle at first,'' he said.

The fact that he also had to leave his wife, Itimad, and 1-year-old son, in Gaza, made it more difficult.''It was tough,'' Mr. Tayh said. ''I was here by myself and needed to find a job.''

His wife and child joined him six months later.

Mr. Tayh's first stop in the U.S. was in Detroit, Mich., where he studied English at Oakland Community College and worked at gas stations, learning even more colorful American colloquialisms.

He said he was drawn to the U.S. ''for educational reasons. I wanted to further my graduate school studies in chemistry.''

Mr. Tayh completed a master's degree in chemistry from Eastern Michigan University, followed by a doctorate from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

He and his family moved to the Quad-Cities in 1994, so he could teach chemistry at Scott Community College, where he still works. He also belongs to the Muslim Community of the Quad-Cities and leads daily prayers at the Bettendorf Mosque at 2115 Kimberly Road.

Mr. Tayh and his wife now have five kids - three boys and two girls - four of whom still live in the family's Bettendorf home.

Big families run in the family. Mr. Tayh has four brothers and five sisters, all of whom are in Palestine.''But we're always calling one another, to make sure everyone's OK,'' he said.

It's hard to watch current events on the news and hear of houses being bombed, knowing his brothers or sisters could be killed at any time, he said. So far, Mr. Tayh said he's lost some good friends, but no family to the violence in Palestine.

His parents died in 2009, but political turmoil prevented him from returning home for their funerals.

Problems eased a bit after the earlier Egyptian revolution and Mr. Tayh said he was able to visit Gaza last January.

He said it was easier to get a student visa in 1985 when he came to the U.S. than it is now.

Times, such as when his parents died, have made it tough, but he still doesn't regret coming to the U.S., he said.''It's been worth it. Otherwise, I may never have been able to go to graduate school.''

If he had stayed in Palestine, Mr. Tayh thinks he would have had to take a government job in Gaza or open his own business, but wouldn't have become a teacher.

"Teaching's a nice career,'' he said. "It gives you a lot of flexibility with your time and scheduling. I never planned to be a teacher, but am happy I did. Now I plan to work a few more years, then retire.

"That is what's unique about this American society. You're able to become what you want to be here, and if you have the energy or talent, you can achieve all that you want to.''

If anyone from Palestine expressed an interest in coming to the U.S., Mr. Tayh said he would tell them they'd find the greatest education available, ''or if their interest was in business, I'd tell them they also would find the best of that here.''

Mr. Tayh has met only a few Palestinians since moving to the U.S.''I remember meeting one person in Texas and another in Detroit who really helped me get settled,'' he said.

For his kids, the United States is home, he said. ''They feel it's their country and plan to stay here.''

Mr. Tayh said some Palestinians have trouble believing when he tells them how friendly and helpful Americans have treated him.''Some of the connotations they have about America are a bit different."

He said his religious and Arabic upbringing, and heritage ''gives us a way of living in a society so different in culture than the one we were born in. Our culture is based on sharing with one another and surviving on what God has given us,of being satisfied with what God has given us.

''God created the resources we have to be shared,'' he said. "If we all learn how to share those resources, basically there will be peace. We're getting there. We've made advancements on how to live with each other and resolve our difficulties, but so many wars have been caused by people not willing to share resources.

"I always pray for peace and shared resources, and my hope is that we all will be better in the U.S.''

Gaza Strip
-- Location:Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Egypt and Israel.

-- Population:1,710,257 (July 2012 estimate). No. 151 in the world.

-- Languages:Arabic, Hebrew (spoken by many Palestinians), English (widely understood).

Source: CIA World Factbook.


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