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An Education Resumes

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In Syria, Sarah Aziz ’12 discovers Dartmouth

In the winter of 2008, Sarah Aziz '12, David Nutt '09, and Katrina Roi '08 would take a break from their responsibilities and walk the cobbled streets of the old city of Damascus, Syria. They would visit bazaars, speak Arabic, and admire the architecture of this peaceful, ancient city. Of course, the friends would also talk—about their lives, upbringings, and colleges.
Aziz
A NEW START: (l-r) Olivia Berwari, David Nutt ‘09, and Sarah Aziz ‘12 in Damascus in winter 2008.  A former resident of Baghdad, Aziz and her family (Berwari is her cousin) fled to Syria during the Iraq War. Thanks in part to the encouragement of Nutt and others, Aziz is now one of the 1,097 members of the Class of 2012. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Aziz '12.)

Aziz, who four years ago withdrew from medical school and fled from her home in war-torn Baghdad, was impressed by what she heard about Dartmouth. "David and Katrina were so enthusiastic," she says. "I've never heard students talk about college that way." Though she considered it "a long shot," she decided to apply.

A straight-A high school student, Aziz was ranked as one of the top applicants to Baghdad's Al-Nahrain University School of Medicine, where she enrolled in fall 2002. But the violence, roadblocks, and lack of electricity caused her to withdraw from the university and move to Syria, where she lived in peace with her family as refugees.

But then on the last day of 2006, her father, Janan Jabero, was shot and killed in Iraq. He was an assistant project officer for the Rehabilitation Program for UNICEF. "I never imagined anything so dreadful could happen to my family," she says.

After going through a period of crippling grief, Aziz decided to do something "that my father would be proud of." She committed to social work with teenage refugees from Iraq through a local nonprofit and eventually through the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). She also became a member of the Iraqi Student Project (ISP), an organization devoted to helping Iraqi refugees get into colleges. Through ISP she met the two Dartmouth students: Nutt was on a Dickey Center for International Understanding internship at the United Nations Relief and Works. Roi had earned her Dartmouth credits early and was improving her Arabic.

Both Nutt and Roi helped students in ISP with their English, and they became particularly engaged with Aziz. They even contacted Dartmouth admissions on her behalf. "In many ways she reminded me of students at Dartmouth," says Nutt. "She was smart, a good writer, and dedicated to her community service work." Roi says, "I could just tell how motivated and capable she is. She is assertive and warm at the same time, and she reaches out to everyone around her."

The three spent time together—traveling, studying, and visiting mutual friends such as Ibrahim Elshamy '09, who was on a transfer term at the University of Cairo. Elshamy says, "David and Katrina had really become ingrained in life there. I met Sarah and we quickly became friends." Also in Damascus at the time were Sean Mann '05, Kevin Mazur '04, and Mayda Nathan '08—all who were visiting friends or furthering their study of Arabic.

Aziz was impressed by the strength of Dartmouth's government department (her expected major). Perhaps most important, this was the first year Dartmouth extended its need-blind admissions policy to international students. (The College's financial aid program meets the full demonstrated need of all admitted students.) "I couldn't be here if it wasn't for that," she says. "Tuition costs were why I wasn't studying in Syria."

On the afternoon she found out she was accepted, Aziz says, "I was so excited I hugged everyone in the British Council. I was so relieved to be finally leaving to a place I can call home."

Roi is thrilled for Aziz. "Her presence will make the College a richer place," she says. "Not all students can go to Iraq or Syria. Her knowledge in the classroom or in interactions is so valuable."

This summer, Roi visited Aziz and her family, who are now living in Chicago. Roi says, "I've never seen someone so excited about Dartmouth. She asked so many questions."

Aziz admits: "I'm nervous—it's been four years since I've been a student—but I can't wait to get back to school."

By STEVEN J. SMITH

Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 10/7/08