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November 19, 2018

This Syrian Student Beat the Odds to Win a Place at Cambridge

“One word changed my life, I just jumped and was running all over the place. My mother couldn’t believe it!”

Syrian student Abdullah Kattineh is describing his reaction upon discovering that he’d been offered a place at Cambridge University.

His is an inspiring story of hope and determination; lending credence to the saying that anything is possible when you put your mind to it.

Certainly, the obstacles that Abdullah faced seemed, at points, insurmountable.

Though his hometown Tartus remained in government control and escaped much of the fighting, the effects of the conflict were widespread.

Over the course of the seven-year war, the Kattineh family’s financial situation had rapidly deteriorated and affording a regular food supply became a real struggle.

Reflecting on his last year of study before his final exams, Abdullah says: “Sometimes I would be studying for Chemistry and I’d go down to the kitchen to get a snack, or something for breakfast. I’d open the fridge and there’d be nothing more than bread, so I’d just eat a couple of pieces and then carry on.”

It was this resilient attitude that enabled Abdullah to adapt to overcome the challenges which threatened to derail his studying. Unable to afford text books, he studied from PDFs on his mobile phone; often in the dark, as he battled against power outages which sometimes went on for up to 18 hours a day.

Abdullah’s efforts culminated in entry to a global chemistry competition and, after securing third place, an application to study natural sciences at Cambridge.

“I guess I didn’t choose the ordinary road for Syrian student’s,” he admits, smiling. “I applied to one of the most prestigious institutions in the world, and in the end, I attained my place.”

Tuition costs were initially a big worry for Abdullah, but he was overwhelmed with support from his fellow students at Cambridge, many of whom helped him campaign for funding assistance from the University.

His college, Corpus Christi, is now helping to cover the costs, with support from a charitable trust.

But what about the future post-Cambridge? Abdullah says he hopes to use his education to help find a cure for Alzheimer’s, a dream which was inspired by his grandmother:

“My grandmother was my role model. She was one of the first women in Syria to pursue a PhD degree. But now, since the disease, everything has gone.”

Abdullah’s story is truly optimistic; a reason to believe that circumstances can be transformed, even when all the odds are against your favour. Reflecting on his journey, his overarching feelings are of pride and contentment:

“After four years of hard work, I made it to Cambridge. Now, being here, it is a very amazing thing.”


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