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Sugar House Journal

Syrian refugee receives Westminister scholarship

Mohammad Alzouabi finishes his shift at The Gap clothing store . (Jessica Ivins/City Journals)

By Jessica Ivins | [email protected]

If you walked into Gap clothing store and saw 17-year-old Mohammad Alzouabi working, you would think he is like any other senior graduating this year. And Alzouabi is like any other teen in America—he wants to go to college and applied for college like his friends. “It is priority to my family to get an education,” Alzouabi said. 

Alzouabi had planned to attend an affordable community college and transfer to a university when the time was right. But a teacher told him to apply for a scholarship to Westminister College. The essay prompt: Tell about a struggle in your life. 

When he received the $18,000 scholarship, he decided he had better apply to Westminister and was accepted. With the help of friends and the Refugee International Committee, he applied for more scholarships. Ultimately, Alzouabi received a full scholarship to Westminister. 

Here is what separates Alzouabi from other teens: he is refugee from Dara’a, Syria.  He came to the United States in 2016 on refugee status with his family and grandma.

His family’s village was bombed in 2012 and they were forced to leave. “Prices were escalating and people were dying,” said Alzouabi. During their last two months of living in their village, it was destroyed. Finally, his family’s lives were threatened and they fled to Jordan. They applied for refugee status through International Organization for Migration.

 Education was a priority in his home. “My whole family is educated with doctors, pharmacists, teachers, and engineers,” Alzouabi said. He always wanted to go to college. His father was a principal at a high school in Syria and his mother was an elementary teacher.

Za’atari refugee camp has had 462,000 refugees pass through the camp from 2012-2017. Za’atari would be the best place for his family because the schools have teachers that speak Syrian and Jordanian. Alzouabi attended an English school for six months while at the camp. He learned to speak fluent English. He and his siblings would attend school in Za’atari camp for almost four years. His English he worked hard to learn would become an important tool for his family later.

In 2016, his dad received a call from the IOM. After eight interviews over a year, they received a surprising call that they were leaving in 14 days for the United States. “I was happy and sad. I was leaving a lot of family behind,” Alzouabi said. His only vision of the United States was what he had watched in the movies. “But it would be a second life, a second chance at life in the United States,” said Alzouabi.

Alzouabi plans on graduating from Westminister and applying to the University of Utah’s medical school. He wants to be a doctor. Alzouabi’s favorite thing about being in the United States?

 “Being whoever I want to be.”