“Thank God we’re alive, but we are dying an intellectual death.”
Wearing a colorful headscarf and a seemingly permanent look of sorrow, an intense and charismatic professor I’ll call Noora shared with me her tragic story of fleeing Syria and becoming a refugee. I was in Reyhanlı, a dusty border town in Turkey’s southernmost province, to meet with Syrians whose university education and academic work had been interrupted indefinitely due to the conflict in their homeland. Among the more than three million Syrian refugees, including an estimated one million in Turkey, there are tens of thousands of university students and professors.
Doing our best to ignore the rumbling of military tanks outside a Beirut classroom, we listened as a group of Syrian university students shared with us how they had fled their homes and studies in Syria and were struggling to continue their education in Lebanon.
The occupants of seats 15A and B are an Iranian boxing champion and his photographer. Between the three of us (I am in 15C) we have just about that number of words in common. "Doctor" is one of them after the photographer fainted.
The crisis in Syria has created an academic emergency, with the break-down of higher education within the country and major obstacles facing Syrians who are studying or teaching outside of Syria. This week’s violent attacks on the University of Aleppo have underscored the need for urgent action to save the students and scholars who will be needed to rebuild their country. IIE’s Scholar Rescue Fund has been helping scholars from Syria to enable them to continue their work at safe haven universities around the world. Today, we joined with the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) and the Scholars at Risk Network (SAR) to issue a joint statement condeming the attacks on the University of Aleppo.
On Friday night here in NYC, I attended the first Gala dinner of a group called Jusoor. Arabic for “bridges,” Jusoor aims to build a more peaceful and prosperous Syria by connecting the 20 million people in Syria with the 20 million people in the Syrian diaspora throughout the world. Like IIE, their focus is education.
I’m well aware that beyond international education circles, the Institute of International Education is not exactly a household name. So you can imagine my surprise when, on my first trip to Libya in 2006 to explore restarting scholarship programs with the country, I met numerous people who were intimately familiar with IIE. I will never forget my first meeting at Libya’s National Oil Company, when a gentleman greeted me in near-flawless English. It turns out that he had studied in the United States in the 1970s on an IIE-administered scholarship program. Not only did he have fond memories of his studies and the university that hosted him, but he regaled us with stories of his arrival to the United States and the warm welcome he received from his IIE program officer, whose name he remembers to this day.