My journey as a Hope Fund scholar was full of turning points, from adjusting to being completely independent in another country, deciding my field of study, dealing with the loss of my family home and five family members in the latest Israeli attack, to graduating a year early and adjusting back to life in Gaza.
My name is Iman AbuAitah and I grew up in Jabalia refugee camp in the north of Gaza. My life as a refugee didn’t really seem full of opportunities; it was hard to travel and see the world given the travel restrictions imposed on Gazans. Therefore, when I was introduced to the Hope Fund Program, my life was changed forever. Completing my undergraduate degree in the U.S., which was a long-standing dream of mine, would never have been possible if it weren’t for the program.
After getting accepted to an American college, it was very difficult for me to leave Gaza to start my college career. My travel was delayed numerous times because I was denied a permit to exit Gaza. However, I did make it eventually. I was the only student who could not make it to orientation; I arrived a couple of days before classes began.
Adjusting to college life was indeed a challenge, especially in the first semester. I had to overcome homesickness, get used to the culture, and learn how to manage my time to ensure that I could finish my coursework on time. I also had an on campus job that I needed to factor in into the equation. Not only did I overcome all these challenges with the encouragement of my family, friends, and professors, but I also was on the president’s honors list for getting a 4.0 GPA that semester.
By my second semester, I was sure that I will declare a major in biology. Also, I was well-established at my job at the college’s IT Help Desk, which got me promoted, and I was involved on campus. I even took an interest in English literature and decided to add it as a second major. I also won many academic and service awards at my college and the local community.
Although I was fulfilled by all of these accomplishments, something was lacking. I wished I could share them with my family back in Gaza. I missed my parents at every honors ceremony or presentation at an honors conference. After the completion of my sophomore year, I decided that it was time for me to visit home. However, my parents discouraged me from doing so because of the instability of the political situation in Egypt. They thought I shouldn’t take the risk of getting stuck in Gaza and losing my scholarship, so I couldn’t visit them.
In that same summer, the Israeli attack on Gaza broke out, and I lost both my parents, two older brothers, and a nephew. Dealing with that tragedy from afar was devastating. My first reaction was to try to return home and be with the rest of my family. However, I received so much support from the Hope Fund and AMIDEAST teams and my surviving family members. Instead of leaving everything behind, I decided to stay in the U.S. and complete my studies. Before the beginning of the new semester, I collaborated with my college to create a plan to fit two-years’ worth of courses in one year, and with lots of determination, the plan worked. I took courses all year long to ensure I could finish on time. Although that year was very emotional and difficult, I still managed to graduate summa cum laude and cum honor in the summer of 2015.
Upon my graduation, I returned home to support my two little sisters and to try to make a difference in my local community. For now, teaching is my platform to make a change. I work full time as a middle school math teacher at the American School in Gaza, with hope to also teach English and science later. I also work part time as an English language teacher at AMIDEAST. Teaching has been such a rewarding experience thus far, but I hope to also find other ways to give back to my community.
Being a Hope Fund Scholar definitely made me a stronger, more determined person. It taught me to be a leader, and provided me with a network of support that I will always have. I am very grateful for where I am now, which wouldn’t have happened had I not been part of this program.