Having fled Syria in 2005, Montgomery College alumna Oula Alrifai ’09 is thriving in her new life. A government and poli- tics major, 22-year-old Alrifai graduated from the College and received a Transfer Academic Excellence Scholarship, which will cover tuition for four full semesters at the University of Maryland (UM).
Raised in Damascus, Syria, Alrifai finds life in America refreshingly different. “… I really value and appreciate the freedom here,” says Alrifai. “I can choose what to study and what to wear. I can express my thoughts freely.”
The eldest child of pro-democracy activists, Alrifai was raised with certain western values, which set her apart from many of her peers.
In 2002, Alrifai’s parents founded the Tharwa Foundation, which promotes human rights and poli- tical change in Syria, the Middle East, and the North Africa region. Tharwa in Arabic literally means “wealth,” but Alrifai explains that it also embodies the larger idea of diversity and accepting differences as a form of wealth for society as a whole. They lead grassroots efforts to break the government’s “infor- mation blockade.”
As a result of those activities, Alrifai says, her family was forced into exile and emigrated to the United States. They are considered politi- cal refugees. “We cannot return, until a regime change, and our relatives are banned from traveling.”
During her first weeks at Montgomery College, Alrifai found the multicultural atmos- phere helpful for overcoming
her initial shyness to communi- cate in English. “I met students from all over the world,” she says. “We could correct each other. To be honest, everybody, including professors, were very supportive.”
“The most important thing is that I can dream, and work hard, and I can achieve my dreams. I have done so many things since 2005 that I could never have been able to achieve in my homeland.”
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