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Galesburg, IL 61401-4999
May 09, 2017
Thousands of miles from their home country of Syria, Farid Freyha '20 and Shahim Shaar '20 are settling into their new lives as Knox College students.
They are the first students admitted to Knox through an Institute of International Education (IIE) initiative—the Syria Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis—designed to help Syrian students pursue higher education in the United States.
The consortium consists of a group of colleges and universities that provide scholarships for Syrian students whose education has been disrupted because of the war in that country. Knox is offering two full-tuition scholarships each year for Syrian students.
Freyha and Shaar say they're grateful for the opportunity to study at Knox.
"I feel like the professors here are nice and are paying attention to each student and his or her interests," said Freyha, who came to Knox in January. He previously had traveled to Illinois to visit his older brother, a December 2016 graduate of Monmouth College, so he was somewhat familiar with the Galesburg area. Even so, he never set foot on the Knox campus until he enrolled for the 2017 Winter Term.
Shaar arrived at Knox in late March, just before Spring Term classes started. Like Freyha, he'd never visited Knox in person before, but he had done some research online and had been in touch with Brenda Tooley, director of Knox's Eleanor Stellyes Center for Global Studies.
"Communicating with Dr. Tooley, she'd given me many assurances about the place. I looked online and took the virtual tour. It was clearly a very nice campus," Shaar said.
Things have "been going great," added Shaar, who thinks he'll eventually major in computer science. "I really like my classes. The professors are very knowledgeable, and they're able to convey their ideas very well."
Other students have been welcoming, too.
"Everybody's been very nice and very open to me," Shaar said. "That's something I definitely appreciate very much."
Before arriving at Knox, Shaar had been living with his family in the United States for about two years, first in Maryland and later in California.
"At the time when we left [Syria], it was very, very bad. We wouldn't have left if it weren't so bad. We had been displaced three times."
"It was very, very dangerous," he added. Shelling was frequent, and the electricity and water supplies were unreliable.
Freyha experienced similar hardships while living with his family in Damascus, where he remained until late last year.
"It was a lot safer there [in Damascus], in comparison to other cities," Freyha said. "It was still dangerous."
He decided that he needed to leave home so he could continue with his education and his hopes for the future. "Staying there would get in the way of accomplishing my dreams," said Freyha.
Knox joined the Syria consortium about a year ago, shortly after Tooley began serving as director of the College's Eleanor Stellyes Center for Global Studies.
Before coming to Knox, Tooley already had been deeply involved with the consortium and helped more than 20 Syrian students pursue higher education in the United States. That work "means a lot to me," she said, and joining the consortium is "a good match for Knox's ethos. Working with the thoughtful, courageous students from Syria who seek to continue their educations in the States—many of whom have become good friends—is inspiring, professionally and personally."
"Knox has an outward-looking approach to the world," she added. "It's not just that people study issues. It's that they want to help improve the world."
(Photo above: Farid Freyha, left, and Shahim Shaar on the Gizmo patio.)
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