Many students, however, can only dream of accessing a place at a university overseas, and opportunities in Syria are limited. (See a related article, “In Syria, the Complicated Web that Sanctions Weave.”)
“Now more than ever, education is important, as Syrians will be the ones to rebuild their country, but they lack the materials to do that,” said George, a Syrian pharmacist, peacebuilder and human rights advocate who is now studying at King’s College London.
Most, he said, could only dream of finding the funds to travel to Lebanon for the language exams and visa applications required by study-abroad programs.
For those who have gained places, the transition has not been without challenges. All of the students described difficulties adapting to the demands of a new education system with classes in a foreign language while adjusting to a different country and culture.
William, who arrived in the Portuguese city of Porto from Damascus in 2014, used to catch up during evening sessions with his tutors after class, sometimes as late as 11 p.m. “Because of the extra effort I had to put in for my studies, I didn’t build many connections, and for me it is important to have this kind of balance between studies and other activities in life, which wasn’t the case that first year, but in the second it got better.”
Looking back, many of the students say that overcoming these challenges helped them develop, in their chosen career paths and as people. “Not only have I survived but I got the chance to be happy … to raise my voice, to state my opinion, to walk on the streets,” said Salma, 22. “I have hope and I’m able to dream more.”
She added, “I was lucky to get this opportunity, and there are many other people who are still waiting for an opportunity.”