Jusoor Academic Mentorship Program

Article by Hang Le, SVR volunteer, based on her interview with
Aphrodite Al Zouhouri (Jusoor student recipient)  
March 31, 2021

Aphrodite is a Syrian student who received a scholarship from Jusoor to attend a Masters in Education program at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada. She left Syria and fled to Lebanon in 2012, where she and a few others co-founded a school for other Syrian refugee children. Her interests center on the effects of war and trauma in education.

The main message that Aphrodite underscored is the need to challenge common victimizing narratives about refugees. As Aphrodite said, “I always introduce myself as a refugee student, because part of my mission is to change the stereotype about refugees… that they are vulnerable students, and they don’t have the capability to go to the university, or they are not strong… So I always keep saying, I am here, I am a strong woman, I am a strong Syrian refugee woman.”

Therefore, what she appreciated most about Jusoor was that they didn’t give her this scholarship just because she was a refugee. Rather, it was because she was a strong, highly-educated, and highly-qualified woman who deserved this opportunity. Aphrodite also mentioned receiving other support from Jusoor beyond just receiving the scholarship, such as workshops on what they should do after graduation and a long-term support network. They also didn’t treat her in any special way; because Jusoor understood her background, they understood what she wanted to communicate to them.

In Aphrodite’s words, when Jusoor gave her this opportunity, “They opened the door… I am here, I am changing my thoughts, changing my life. So I am changing the people who support me. This opportunity was not for me only, but for my big family and friends [also].”

It was not easy for Aphrodite to access higher education at first. It took her four years when she first got to Lebanon to try to enter a university. The barriers included missing transcripts and official documents, though eventually she got the school’s support with this. Her study options were also limited. Though she wanted to teach, the only way for her to get a teaching license was through a Teaching English as a Second Language program even though she did not know English at the time. As the only Syrian student at that university with a refugee background, it was hard for her to make friends or do collaborative work.

Thankfully, her experience in the Master’s program in Canada was easier. Because she knew that she had the qualifications to be in this program, she felt a lot more confident. Aphrodite mentioned that ISOW (International Students Overcoming War), a club at Wilfrid Laurier University, helped her a lot with paperwork and administrative procedure. Still, she mentioned how her lack of familiarity with the local community made it more difficult to participate in class discussion.  

Aphrodite’s recommendations for universities include:

  • Ensure students know more about students from different backgrounds, including international and refugee students

  • Challenge media stereotypes about refugees as vulnerable recipients of aid

  • Create events for students to share about their different backgrounds

  • Provide support for refugee students to navigate the administrative processes, such as allowing the students to submit transcripts by hand

  • Provide language support because this is a very big barrier

Meet SVR Volunteer, Hang Minh Le

Hang Minh Le, SVR Working Group 1 Volunteer; University of Maryland-College Park 

Hang M. Le (she/her) is a PhD candidate in International Education Policy at the University of Maryland-College Park (USA). Her research interests include the political economy of development and humanitarian aid, refugee education, and global education policies. Hang has worked on various projects with organizations including Save the Children, the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), and the Aspen Institute. Originally from Hanoi, Vietnam, she received a BA in Educational Studies and Political Science from Swarthmore College (PA, USA).