A Long Road to Success: Zaher's Story

Zaher Alhassen is one of 10 children. The youngest, he had his older siblings to look up to and motivate him. “Our family really values education,” he said in an interview with Karam Foundation. He placed 1st in his school for the Brevet and Baccalaureate exams in Syria, which are administered in the 9th and 12th grade respectively and dictate a student’s future.

He chose to go into medicine. “Three of my older siblings are doctors, so it was obvious this was the path that I would take as well,” Zaher said. He was his parent’s pride. He chose to study at the University of Aleppo, to remain close to his native Idlib, where the majority of his family still lives.

He spent the first 5 years of his studies as any other student would: working hard, and making sure that he remained involve. He was a 2nd year when the Syrian uprising began, and he knew that his city of origin made him a target to the Syrian regime and its proxies at the university. Nevertheless, he worked hard to finish his studies. At the end of his 5th year, he and his friends from Idlib went home for a break. During this break, 5 of his friends were arrested. These were young doctors to be, accused of helping those in need.

“Their only crime was being medical students from our town in Idlib,” he recalled. They remained in detention for over a year. “Some were released, and others passed away during their detention.”

Their arrest was a turning point. He knew he couldn’t return to Aleppo without jeopardizing his life. He passed the year they were arrested working with a pediatrician and at a pharmacy. “Working with the doctor and at the pharmacy exposed me to so many aspects of medicine and people. I am so grateful to have had that opportunity.”

In the summer of 2015, he was contacted by a friend from medical school who had fled to Turkey. The friend told Zaher that he could come to Turkey, and finish his degree here.

With the support of his parents, he went to Turkey armed with his transcripts and school information. He spent the first month there, getting his papers translated and notarized, and then trekked Turkey to be admitted as a transfer student.

“Because I was applying as a transfer student, my chances were not guaranteed at any school. I had to apply all over the country. I remember, during that time, I spent 55 hours once on a bus just to get to one school.”

He was lucky, and received an offer from a university in Southern Turkey. As a foreign student, he had to take a year to complete the language requirements. He completed his language requirements at this school, but was concerned about his prospects after graduation. “The school is not very well regarded, and I wanted to be sure that I could succeed. They told me that I would graduate with a degree, but that I wouldn’t be able to work after graduation.”

This prompted Zaher to start the application process again. A year later, in September 2016, he enrolled at Süleyman Demirel University’s school of medicine as a transfer student. “This is one of the best schools in Turkey for medicine. I was so thrilled,” he said.

At Süleyman Demirel University, he had to repeat his fifth year of medical school, to ensure that he would succeed. “I’m not at all upset that I had to repeat a year. The quality of instruction is amazing at my university, and I’m lucky to have this chance.”

Currently, Zaher is in his 6th — and final year — of medical school. He is completing his clinical rotations. He will be graduating at the end of June.

But this isn’t the end of his education. He is currently studying for the specialization exam. He hopes to enter a speciality in Neurology. Syria is his primary motivation for studying neurology.

“I’ve never met a neurologist in Syria who is truly amazing. It’s a speciality that is lacking in Syria, and it is extremely needed now,” he said. He plans on returning to Syria as soon as he completes his specialization, because he does not want to be separated from his family any longer.

Zaher’s passion for learning is evident even in his hobbies. He makes sure to read anything and everything that can advance his knowledge, and he is dedicated to bettering himself always. When asked what he was most proud of, he mentioned that he was close to memorizing the Qu’ran, which he has been working on in between all of his studies.