Profile: Hariclea Zengos, NU-Q’s new director of liberal arts


Photo: Asmahan Qarjouli

Hariclea Zengos was one of the first in her family to attend university. Now she is a distinguished professor of literature with some 28 years of experience. Zengos joined Northwestern University in Qatar as the director of the liberal arts program this year.

Zengos’ parents had only completed high school before they moved to the United States from Greece. Her father immigrated with his parents in 1952 to seek greater opportunities. He then met Zengos’ mother in 1957 while vacationing back in Greece. They eloped three months later and she joined him in America in 1959.

Zengos grew up in Massachusetts. At the age of 16, she moved to Greece for the first time because of her parents’ desire to repatriate. “Their hearts and mind were always on their homeland,” said Zengos, recalling her parents’ affection for the country.

She decided to pursue her undergraduate studies at the American College of Greece where she earned a BA in English. Zengos then completed her graduate studies in the U.S, and earned an M.A. in English from Clark University, where she also taught for two years. Later, she earned a Ph.D. in English from Tufts University and a Master’s of Education from Harvard University.

Her interest in literature and the English language began at a very young age. As a child, she would go to the public library and pull out books to read. “Literature won out everything—it is the exploration of the human experience,” she said.

Childhood also brought a keen interest in teaching for Zengos. “My mother said I used to play teacher all the time,” she said. Now, she finds joy in being a professor because of the guidance she can provide. “The beauty of being an educator is that your job transforms others but it also transforms you and it constantly changes,” she explained.

Her teaching career started when she returned to Greece and taught at the American College of Greece, where she met her husband and also had her two children who currently attend the same college. After 28 years of teaching in Greece, Zengos decided to work at NU-Q after a visit in 2015. “The Middle East has always been under our [her and her husband’s] satellite,” said Zengos.

Moving from Greece to Qatar was not difficult. “I didn’t feel much of a culture shock…I constantly see connections not in language, but in attitude and food.” said Zengos.

She believes students now are more demanding as they are more aware of global issues, another change that she noticed in her journey as an educator. Despite the number of years working as an educator, Zengos said she is always amused at the range of views and ideas her students bring in each class. She added that she learns from her students, just like they learn from her. “Educators are students forever,” she said.

Along with being an educator, Zengos is an ardent researcher. She explores the construction and politics of race, gender and ethnicity in contemporary American and Anglophone literatures, particularly postcolonial literatures. In her current research projects, she is analyzing all types of migration, in addition to displacement, and the way it is portrayed in contemporary world English literature.

Zengos said she is excited to work at NU-Q and encourages students to seek out opportunities that are not limited to their classrooms. She views liberal arts as essential to a student’s education and believes that it cultivates adaptability among students and keeps them resourceful. “I want students to see liberal arts as the backbone to their education,” she said.

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