Last week, around 2,500 students graduated from the University of Central Lancashire, and amongst them were three students who had overcome exceptional hardships before their studies, having fled war-torn countries.
On Tuesday (December 14), one married couple were awarded PhDs together at their graduation ceremony in the Sir Tom Finney Sports Centre, six years after leaving Syria.
Dr Joud Sabouni and Dr Murhaf Jalab both accepted PhD awards for their work related to brain cancer and infectious diseases research, respectively, whilst being cheered on by their family, including four-year-old son Majed.
The couple’s educational journey started in their native Syria, where they met whilst studying for their Masters’ degrees, before war forced them to flee the country in 2015.
Whilst in Turkey, Joud and her husband, Murhaf, applied for scholarships through Cara (the Council for At-Risk Academics), which led them to be offered full fee-waiver scholarships from UCLan to study in the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences.
Joud, said: “Today represents the end of what was a very difficult journey at times. Although it was hard to leave our country, we felt happy to have this opportunity to do our PhD studies and achieve our dreams. We’ve both enjoyed living in Preston and being able to continue our research at UCLan.”
In addition to adjusting to living and studying in a new country, Joud and Murhaf also had to adapt to life as new parents during their PhD studies when Majed was born in 2017.
Joud explained: “I had to spend many weekends working in the lab, which was hard at times when I had a baby at home to look after. The nature of our research means that time is of the essence because we work on live cells. We’ve had to make sacrifices so it’s nice to finally celebrate with our families, who have been so supportive.”
Since finishing their doctorate degrees, Joud and Murhaf have welcomed a second son, Yazan, and spent the last year working at the University of Nottingham as postdoctoral research fellows.
Murhaf added: “I’m not sure Majed really understood why his parents were on a stage being given awards, but he was very excited all the same and it was lovely for Joud and I to graduate together.
“We will always be grateful to our supervisors, UCLan, and Cara for their support. Our hope has always been to make a difference in cancer and infectious diseases research through our work. We hope to be able to continue living and working in the UK to develop our research further.”
Meanwhile, on Thursday December 16, a Sudanese former refugee celebrated gaining a first-class engineering degree from UCLan, six years after fleeing his home country to escape conflict.
Sami Hary, who was only 18 when he arrived in the UK from Sudan, said: “I arrived as a stranger in 2015. I was far away from my family and knew very little English, so it was a struggle at first. I picked up the language quite quickly though and studied a level three science access course at Preston’s College, which then led to my studies at UCLan.
“I carried out extensive research into the University to make sure it was the right course for me. I was also given a lot of support, particularly during lockdown, and now have the skills and knowledge I need.”
The now 25-year-old was inspired by a book called 'The Prize' by Daniel Yeargin, and his older sister Sara, also an engingeer, to study for a degree in oil and gas safety engineering, and says he was greatly encouraged by his parents.
Sami, who is now studying for a master’s degree in oil and gas engineering at UCLan, added: “I want to thank all the people who have supported me these last few years. In particular, my parents and family back home in Sudan, my friends Amy and Lucy Vaughan who helped me to fill in my University application forms, and my UCLan student coach, Colette Davies, who I consider to be my family in the UK and was always there whenever I needed help or advice.
“I’m very happy with my achievements. Especially as I’ve worked hard to overcome many difficulties, including learning a new language and navigating a new education system.”