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Where Are They Now? Ghenim Houda, BTL Arabic 2010

The Between the Lines (BTL) program brings young writers, ages 16-19, to the University of Iowa for creative writing study and cultural exchange. As young people from the U.S., Russia, and 17 Arabic-speaking countries prepare to apply for BTL 2013,  we are profiling past BTL alumni in a blog series, Where Are They Now? 

This week, we feature 21-year-old Ghenim Houda, who lives in Oran, Algeria, where she is her 5th year of studying medicine. Ghenim participated in BTL Arabic 2010, when she was 18-years-old.

IWP: What was your BTL experience like?

Ghenim:  My BTL experience was awesome. Two years have passed and I’m still talking about Iowa as if I have just come back from the trip. I met a lot of admirable people, writers and poets.  I made new friends who share my passion. I still talk to them sometimes, even now.  I learned a lot in only two weeks. My favorite BTL memory is of when we went with Tarek El Tayeb to see a mural in Iowa and everyone had to write a story about it. I found all the stories beautiful and original, each one its own indelible print of this wall, each of us hoping that the mural itself would never forget us.

IWP: Had you visited the United States before?

Ghenim:  I’ve been to the U.S. before, but it was my first time visiting Iowa and I was really surprised by the people of Iowa. I think of all the chairs and all the green grass shaded by trees blessed to provide seats to such a huge number of writers.  I don’t remember a day that went by in Iowa without seeing people sitting and writing or sitting and reading.  I was really impressed.

My favorite activity in Iowa was a translation workshop. We (BTLers) translated English poems into Arabic or French while Iowa Young Writers’ Studio students translated ours into English.  Then we went to a park in Iowa and read the poems to park-goers. It was so great to hear a mosaic of different languages and cultures.

IWP: Why did you come to BTL?

Ghenim:   My objective was to improve my writing as well as my style. I also wanted to perfect my English. I was lucky; I surpassed my own expectations for myself. Algeria is francophone country, so French is my daily language, as well as Arabic. Throughout the BTL experience, I had the pleasure of writing long stories in English. Those two weeks were extraordinary. I learned a lot through our daily reading and also through all the [workshop] critiques that followed our lessons. Listening to the critiques is very useful and constructive. We had the great luck and the great opportunity to meet wonderful writers who were our professors. Weren’t we lucky? Yes, I think BTL is a great chance that comes only once in a person’s lifetime.

IWP: How have your goals/your writing/your writing life changed since BTL?

Ghenim:  My goals didn’t change. I still want to be a brilliant doctor a fabulous writer and a great painter. I’m trying my best to divide my time between these pursuits even if it’s not easy with my medical studies. Since the BTL experience, I am reading more. I read a lot of plays to improve my own work. I completely revised and changed the beginning of the novel I worked on at BTL and I used some of the advice and things I learned from BTL to improve it; I think the novel is better now.  I haven’t finished it yet, but I’ve written a few of poems in the past two years and I also want to write stories. This is a new goal that I’ve had in mind since my BTL trip.

IWP: What advice would you offer to young people applying to BTL?

Ghenim:  I have only two pieces of advice for future BTLers: don’t hesitate to participate and prepare yourself for the best experience ever!!!

Ghenim Houda is a 5th year medical student at the Faculté de Médecine d'Oran in Oran, Algeria.

This summer, IWP hosts BTL Arabic and BTL Russia. Click here to learn more. In other news, BTL is now on Facebook. We hope you’ll visit us there soon.

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