Universiteit Leiden

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'As refugees, we shouldn't give up on our dreams'

'In Leiden, I can continue on the path towards my dream: having my own pharmacy,' says Duaa Abbas. She studied pharmaceutics in Syria and worked in a pharmacy there for a year and a half. After having to flee the country, she ended up in the Netherlands. Thanks to the help of the Foundation for Refugee Students (UAF), she can build a new life here as a future pharmacist.

When Duaa arrived in the Netherlands five years ago, she was afraid she might never be able to work as a pharmacist again. 'The university in Syria is different from the system in the Netherlands. I was told I had to do a master's at a Dutch university to be allowed to work as a pharmacist here again. That was quite hard to take in, as I had just finished my entire studies in Syria. At first, felt like I couldn't do that.' But quitting is not in her dictionary. 'I started Dutch lessons to master the language as soon as possible.'

Speaking Dutch properly is very important to her. 'In a pharmacy, you want to be able to help people in their own language and give a good explanation. And it gives you a better chance of finding a job', says Duaa.

UAF as a kind of father

Duaa attended three years of Dutch classes and worked for a year as a pharmaceutical assistant in a pharmacy in the meantime. 'But that wasn't the same as being a pharmacist myself. So after that year, I decided to do everything I could to become a pharmacist again. Even if it meant I had to do another master's degree.' She started looking for a way to make that dream come true.

On Saturday 15 April, we are holding the fifth edition of the Leiden Science Run! The entire profits of the sponsored run will go to UAF. Register your team or support one of the teams via the website.

Through her fellow students, she heard about UAF. 'I immediately contacted them and they looked into my qualifications, experiences and plans. They supported me in many ways: with the admission exam, for example, and with financial help and advice.' It is mainly thanks to UAF that Duaa was able to study again. 'The UAF is like a father to us as refugee students. When we are struggling, they support us. If we need something, they help us. That can range from covering travel expenses to buying a laptop or textbooks.'

Differences between Syria and Leiden

At the moment, Duaa is in the premaster of Pharmacy. 'After that, I have to do the master's for another three years. I still have a long way to go, but I really enjoy studying in Leiden.' She especially likes the combination of theory and internships. 'And besides that, this really is a nice university. We have to study a lot, but the atmosphere is peaceful and relaxed.' Duaa works hard and it is paying off. 'So far, I have passed all my subjects at the first attempt,' she says proudly.

When someone believes in you, you get new energy to carry on.

Duaa still has to get used to the Dutch form of education. 'The content of the study is the same, but here we have a different way of studying than in Syria. There, we get the information we have to learn by heart, but here we have to look it up more independently.' In addition, the Dutch course goes into more detail. 'In Syria, we are more concerned with the main outlines. Going into all the details takes some getting used to and I sometimes find it less fun.'

On the way to her own Dutch pharmacy

In the coming years, the UAF staff will continue to assists Duaa. 'They always support me when I'm a bit down, and they believe in me. That is the most important thing. When someone believes in you, you get new energy to carry on.'

Duaa hopes she can inspire other refugees to also follow their dreams. 'It hasn't been easy, but I am proud of myself. After years of studying in Syria, I have moved on here, even in a new language.' With that positive attitude, she looks to the future. 'I am looking forward to the future and hope to open my own pharmacy one day.'

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