30/06/2017 8:53 PM IST | Updated 30/06/2017 8:54 PM IST

What It's Like Being A Student In Aleppo

Mariam Hammad

I was 18 when the war started. I had just finished high school and had plans to go to university to get a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. I started at the university of Aleppo. But during my first semester, the university building was hit. Many of my classmates died and many more were injured.

Luckily, I was not physically harmed in the attack, but I was in shock. I did not feel safe to leave the house to go to class anymore, so I dropped out. It broke my heart to have to abandon my studies, because getting an education is very important to me. 

So I started looking for courses online. Unfortunately, I did not meet the language requirements for most of the programs, since they are usually in English. My English was not good back then.

But then I came across the University of the People: an online university that offers affordable and accessible education to students from all over the world. Since I am based in Aleppo, I was able to get a special scholarship. The University of the People has established a special scholarship fund for Syrians and refugees who cannot afford the university’s modest $100 examination fees.

For me, it has brought back hope. When I’m studying, it feels like I can leave the war behind.

My teachers check in with me to make sure I’m still alive

I will not let any bomb get in the way of my education.

Now I dedicate all of my time to my studies. Sometimes I’m up all night working on assignments and completing my reading.

I’m the first person in my family to go to university. My parents always say that they see their own dreams realized in me. They never had the opportunity to go to university because they were poor. My father in particular is very proud of me. He always encourages me to be the person I want to be.

For a while, it was difficult to focus on my course work with bombs falling around us. During my first semester, the internet went down in Aleppo when I was supposed to take my exams. I cried so hard because I thought that I couldn’t finish the semester. 

I considered traveling to another city to see if the internet was better there, but in the end, I called my sister-in-law, who emailed the university and explained my situation. Amazingly, they were very accommodating and gave me an extension. I was able to pass all of my classes. 

Mariam Hammad

Since then, my teachers check in with me every time there’s an attack in Aleppo. They want to make sure that I’m still alive and that I’m okay.

I will not let any bomb get in the way of my education. If I do that, I will have lost everything. Getting an education is the only chance I have to do good in this life.

I want to use my skills to help rebuild my country

Sometimes I think that I must be crazy. Before the war, I never understood how people can live a normal life in a crisis like this. But now I know that when humans are tested, they will do anything to feel alive.

We owe it to all of our friends and neighbors and relatives who have lost their lives in this war to keep optimistic about the future.

I believe that we owe it to all of our friends and neighbors and relatives who have lost their lives in this war to keep optimistic about the future.

My education gives me hope that one day, I can use my skills to help rebuild my country. After I graduate, I want to help people like me by establishing a center for learning, like UoPeople in Aleppo.

I also want to help my siblings get a good education as well. I have three younger brothers and three younger sisters. I hope that if they see me do well, they’ll want to follow in my footsteps.

I am so grateful to the University of the People for giving me the chance to pursue a degree. And for teaching me to dream bigger: When I finish my studies, I want to go traveling. I have never been outside Syria. After that, I want to come back and study some more.

Mariam Hammad