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CSULB professor emeritus' passion for travel translated into international experiences for students

Published April 27, 2021

The airstrikes in October 1973 came fast and unexpectedly, and Professor Norma Tarrow had just minutes to figure out where to safely house 14 international students who had been living near the Israeli-Syrian border. Her best option was her home. 

“This was an unexpected attack, and they (the residents) weren’t ready,” Tarrow recalled. “I had all 16 of them sleeping in my house.” 

At the time, Tarrow was working as the resident director of the Cal State University International Program (CSUIP), overseeing a group of international students who were studying in Israel. They had been caught off-guard in the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict, an ongoing dispute since 1948. 

Norma TarrowThat was Tarrow’s first wartime experience. It wouldn’t be the last scary moment she would encounter as the resident director who oversaw hundreds of students, many from Cal State Long Beach, who studied abroad. She has stories. 

There were bus bombings in Israeli, another Mideast war in 1976, a rebellion in the Chiapas region of Mexico, and various other conflicts. 

But those trips weren’t always alarming and frightful. Tarrow holds enduring memories of late-night dinners with students, exploring foreign neighborhoods and landmarks while developing bilingual student teachers who have gone on to teach around the world. 

“They all came away with a perspective much broader than if they had spent all four years in Long Beach,” said Tarrow. 

Tarrow’s belief in the value of overseas education has led the Cal State Long Beach emeritus professor to establish a $100,000 scholarship for students enrolled in the CSUIP in Fall 2022. A gift to celebrate her 90th birthday. 

“I have enough money to live the rest of my life comfortably and I would like to share that,” said Tarrow, who will mark her 89th birthday in June. “I would like it to benefit students who want to make a difference in this world and in the field of international studies or human rights; something related to the work I’ve done.” 

Tarrow, who taught teacher education, prefers that the scholarship candidate study in Israel or Mexico, two countries in which she spent the majority of her 38-year teaching career. The scholarship (about $5,000 a year) would cover a student’s transportation to foreign countries and housing expenses, she said. Tuition would equal what the student pays at CSULB. 

“It (scholarship) should allow a student who thinks study abroad is out of reach financially, to take advantage of an experience that will stay with them the rest of their lives,” Tarrow said. 

Tarrow knows first-hand how a semester or year overseas can impact a student. Not only has she guided hundreds of students to navigate foreign countries, her three sons studied abroad.

One of her sons studied in England and the other in Scotland. Her youngest son went to school in Sweden through the UC International program. Her grandson is headed to Taiwan in the fall. 

She also has realized how financial can help enable students realize their dreams of learning a new language or culture by living in another country. Two of her sons were able to travel because they received grants through the Rotary Fellowship program, which subtly planted the idea for her scholarship. 

“It absolutely is the reason I wanted to do the scholarship,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience for them.” 

Like her sons, the students who participate in CSUIP come away with more than a teaching credential and new language skills. The students have a better understanding of human rights issues in other countries, a touchstone for the retired professor, she said. 

Tarrow, a two-time Fulbright scholar and a CSULB Legacy Lecture speaker, wrote a book on human rights and education, and authored several published papers. 

“It (loss of human rights) is in every country I’ve been in,” she said. “They are not aware of what their rights are or feel they are not able to demand them, even in democracies,” Tarrow said.  

“There are ways to protest when your rights are not being met, even on an international level. So that’s some of the things that are taught.” 

It’s a subject Tarrow wants everyone to know. 

“That’s what I want to help foster,” she said. “That’s my legacy.”