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My interview with Sedra: An aspiring Syrian molecular biologist

by Moazzam Salman

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet Sedra, a truly inspirational young woman from Syria who had emigrated to Turkey as a teenager. I want to share her story because it gives me hope for the future. Sedra has been a student with Paper Airplanes’ English program, and joined our Student Advising, and Women in Tech programs as well.

Despite moving to Turkey, Sedra didn’t know Turkish. She would often feel lost and isolated at school. In such a situation, shutting down and oneself would make for a logical response. Sedra, however, started watching YouTube tutorials, reading Turkish books, and interacting with people in order to improve her Turkish. She also took Turkish courses outside of school. This drive helped her graduate from high school and make it to university.

To properly understand the university curriculum, she needed to know English, which she started learning with the Paper Airplanes program, which she found out about through Facebook. She describes her education with Paper Airplanes, which started in Fall 2019, as hugely helpful for her. Sedra and her tutor would watch videos and read articles together, and discuss them afterwards. They would also go over words from Sedra’s university curriculum. Sedra describes her tutor as a friend, and they would often have conversations ranging from their daily routines to global events to give Sedra a better grasp of the language. She explained that her tutor was a good listener, and was patient. Sedra’s experience shows us that online learning doesn’t have to be as isolating as people are made to believe. It’s possible to make good friends even virtually, and oftentimes the informality of an online environment can make people more comfortable around one another. This informality between teachers and students can lead to better learning, as it did with Sedra.

Paper Airplanes student, Sedra

In August 2020, Sedra became a Student Coordinator with Paper Airplanes: she now helps students who are new to the program. She described it as an opportunity to get more involved with the organization and contribute to its goals! Sedra explained: “It’s a process of gaining and giving at the same time” as she helps newcomer students and continues her own learning journey with Paper Airplanes, which has become a part of her life since she joined the organization.

She now studies molecular biology and genetics at university in Turkey, and wants to pursue scholarships to study virology and molecular biology abroad for her further studies. She believes that her field is significant after seeing the need for experts during the pandemic. I felt genuine passion coming from her when she told us of her ambitions to one day make vaccines and return to Syria to help her community. I think we need more people like Sedra in high-tech fields like molecular biology. Women, and especially minority women, are under-represented in STEM fields, and hard-working people like Sedra give me hope that it’s possible for this trend to be reversed. They also serve as a role model for other young women and conflict-affected individuals looking to pursue higher education.

If Sedra could give advice to other students in her position - it’s to keep working hard and to be patient, as by keeping yourself motivated and working hard, one day you will find yourself on your way to reaching your goals!

About the author: Moazzam

I am from Lahore, Pakistan and am currently in my junior year of high school. At Paper Airplanes, I write pieces for the blog. In my free time, I love robotics, reading, listening to music, playing sports, and spending time with my family.

The views and opinions represented in this post belong solely to the author of the blog post, and are not representative of the views and policies of Paper Airplanes and its staff members.

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