Promoting Well-Being In and Out of the Classroom
When AUC went fully online almost 18 months ago, Hanan Kholoussy, associate professor of history, panicked. After teaching face-to-face classes at AUC for more than a decade, she was unsure if she could quickly master the new technology and, more importantly, maintain a connection with her students. Little did she know, this sudden change would propel her to discover new things about herself, her students and the importance of well-being.
“What I noticed during the pandemic is that most of us, not just students, are not taught how to take care of ourselves –– physically, mentally and emotionally,” Kholoussy recalled. “We know the basics, but very few of us actually do it.”
Luckily, Kholoussy employed during Egypt’s lockdown a wealth of techniques that require very little expertise. Seeking to share these with her students, many of whom had disclosed their struggles to the compassionate professor, Kholoussy developed two new courses: A History of Happiness and A History of Healing.
A History of Happiness started last year and is still running. It is a global history course that takes students to different time periods in all parts of the globe through the lens of things that are traditionally believed to make people happy, such as meditation, exercise and nutrition. A History of Healing began just a few weeks ago. This course focuses on the world’s oldest whole-body healing system Ayurveda, which stems from ancient India.
In both courses, Kholoussy challenges her students to adopt what she calls a “happiness habit,” and blog or vlog about it each week, in addition to research and writing assignments on the history of these habits. This particular assignment allowed her a lens into the lives of all of her students, rather than the usual few each semester.
“Some students prefer to write, others to talk. I've given them a platform to express themselves every week. It's one-on-one, and I don't share their blogs or vlogs with anyone. A number of them have really opened up to me, and I feel very privileged that they do that. It's quite an honor.”
Salma Sabry ‘21, a double major in integrated marketing communication and history, took Kholoussy’s course as one of her final classes at AUC. “As soon as I saw ‘History of Happiness’ I was instantly intrigued by the topic. I never thought that there could be a history to feelings like happiness. I instantly wanted to know how it can be studied from a historical perspective,” she recalled.
Sabry adopted yoga as her “happiness habit” and quickly began to notice a difference. “Beyond the physical benefits. it eased my anxiety and helped me with managing my stress, which was the primary cause of my migraines,” she said.
Overall, she is grateful for the unique experience and continues to practice yoga.
“Most courses that have stayed with me after graduation added to my academic scope; however, this course significantly affected my personal life, which is something I hadn’t experienced prior,” she said. “Dr. Hanan has been more than a professor to me and is someone I look up to as a mentor now.”
Abdelrahman Mouchabet '21, an economics major, felt the same about the class and Kholoussy, saying, "Dr. Hanan's class was not what I expected at all. The discussions managed to touch me personally and help me understand why certain habits were fulfilling to me and others weren't."
Another student, construction engineering graduate Amr Orz '21, noticed during the course a sense of passion within himself that had not been there prior. "Dr. Hanan's approach with the students was vastly different than what I was used to. Effortlessly, she made us all excited to join class and participate."
After seeing her students employ technology to share their experiences, Kholoussy felt inspired to do the same. So for the first time, she created an Instagram account, @honeywellness, where she allows the world a clear view of her personal challenges and insights. With her student’s permission, she also features their wellness journeys on her account.
Previously, the professor described herself as "tech-aversive." She could use PowerPoint and other basic programs, but things like Zoom’s advanced features and Google folders were alien to her. “I was trained to write and research in a particular way that's very impersonal and archaic. I could insist on speaking that language to my students, and they won't get much out of it, nor will I.”
But after getting a good handle on many different forms of learning and communication platforms, Kholoussy found that communicating with her students in “their language” was key to creating closer, more supportive relationships.
“I really felt a bond. And it wasn't just between me and the students. They themselves created this really amazing rapport."
For all the remarkable connections Kholoussy was able to foster during AUC’s closure, she is happy to be back on campus, and notes the same happiness in other community members. “Almost everyone is just so excited to be back in person,” she said. “That energy, that excitement is contagious; it's palpable. It's wonderful to teach in that kind of environment.”