Yara Issa is from Syria, and is currently studying for a PhD within the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex.
"I was in my final year in 2011 within the Department of Law in Syria when the war started. I met my ex-partner who had to come to the UK to pursue a PhD degree in Finance at Essex, and we left Syria on 8 November 2011. I briefly returned in February 2012 to do my final exam, but the situation became worse and I had to fly back to the UK as fast as I could. I left the county without completing my exam and therefore failed to get my degree. Since then I haven't returned, and I haven't seen my family.
"The war, the danger, the horror I witnessed in Syria during my stay put me into a severe depression. Added to this, I wasn't able to speak English, and had no friends around me. I joined the International Academy at the University of Essex, on a programme to help PhD students’ dependants and partners with their English and integration into life here. This was my first step towards meet people and learning the language - and after six months I was able to speak fluently and had too many friends! Then, to help myself financially, I worked at a school as a teaching assistant, taking an NVQ3 in teaching assistance and a SEN2. I started to feel at home here at Essex.
"When I was working and doing the other degrees, I started feel the difference between my culture and others; especially when I started to make international friends. Especially issues related to women and children. I was motivated to know more about these differences, and why women are more or less appreciated in different cultures. Also, I was interested in the education system here in the UK, and how it is completely different in structure from Syria's.
"One day I met with my ex-partner’s supervisor and I shared these thoughts with him; he encouraged me to study within the Department of Sociology at Essex, as it is one of top departments of its kind. I had an offer to study Sociology and Social Psychology and I was over the moon. I was very organised and always had a plan: my English started to improve and mentally I was doing well.
"I had my son in 2014 then I started my BA in 2015. After I finished my BA with a first, I applied for scholarship at Essex for a Masters degree - I was accepted and did my Master in Survey Methods within ISER, finishing with very good grades, and also doing a placement within ISER for six weeks, I was delighted with this opportunity as I found ISER a great place to learn - its staff are friendly and incredibly smart! Also, I have a big interest in research methods and statistics, so I wished to continue my study journey and applied for a PhD. I started my PhD last month and I think I am doing well so far.
"The University of Essex is like a home to me. It's a place where I felt proud of myself, where I dramatically improved, and found help when I needed it. There are people who I like and love here. When I was suffering from depression, I got effective help from my teachers, especially Renee and Carlos. They were very supportive. Being student at Essex helped me rethink my life and my career, and I gained unique experience from an academically challenging environment. As a refugee, I got huge support from my department, emotionally and academically.
"Essex also helped me financially thanks to the Refugee Bursary, which supports students affected by war and political unrest; it gave me a lot of security, and made me feel I'm not alone, there is always someone here to help if I needed it. I would not be where I am now without the help and the support I've had from my teachers and friends at Essex. I am very grateful for this opportunity, and I'm very proud to be a student at Essex."