UCSF medical student Sami Jelousi holds an image of his father.
Photo contributed

Fulfilling A Family's Dream

Contributor
School of Medicine

It’s been almost 8 years since I immigrated to the U.S. Looking back on it, I’m often overcome with immense gratitude and appreciation for being where I am today. Other times, I look back and it feels as if I’ve lived two separate and unreconcilable lives.

One back home in Syria surrounded by a large, loving and supportive family and the other as a lonesome, ambitious 18-year-old starting a new life in a foreign country.

The civil war in Syria was getting worse when I left and things continued to decline thereafter. As the inflation rate increased and living conditions deteriorated, my family suffered.

They struggled to make ends meet and their safety was continuously threatened. Navigating life here as an immigrant was difficult, and doing it while worrying about my family’s safety and well-being was an even bigger challenge.

Going to college was my family’s dream. Being the first generation in my family to attend college was incredibly rewarding and equally humbling. Teachers were an integral part of my first gen experience.

My teachers were my first mentors and first advocates in this country. Without my teachers’ support and encouragement, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I was very fortunate to have come across amazing professors in college. In some instances, there were times when I hadn’t heard from my family in weeks due to loss of internet and electricity, and I was worried about their safety.

During such periods of duress, they were there for me, accommodated me, and at times, bent some rules for me.

The support I received from my family in Syria and these teachers in America allowed me to push myself even when I sometimes felt that I couldn’t.

As time passed, seemingly lofty goals were gradually looking more and more realistic as I was doing well in college. I was a senior just a few months away from graduating when the rug was pulled out from under me.

On March 6th, 2018 I found out that a bomb hit my family’s home in Syria and claimed my father’s life. Our home was raided after the bombing.

Soldiers destroyed everything in sight and stole anything of value. I was given this news by a phone call from my distraught stepmom and two sisters.

I was never able to go to Syria and properly mourn or bury my father. I was only sent videos and pictures of our wrecked home and my father’s improvised grave in our front yard.

The sudden and tragic loss of my father has been the most difficult thing I have ever had to endure.

My father was my rock and my most ardent supporter. During the war, he scrapped by to make ends meet while I pursed my education in this country and he never once complained. The fact the he never got to see me celebrating in a graduation gown or donning my white coat breaks my heart to this day.

Beginning medical school in the fall of 2018 while grieving was difficult. I was fortunate to have my brother at my white coat ceremony, but witnessing everyone else with their families made me deeply emotional.

The process of integrating into the demanding profession of medicine without my father’s love and support proved to be even harder than I had anticipated.

However, whenever I feel overwhelmed or discouraged, I remember my two younger sisters in Syria and the challenges they’ve had to live through, growing up without a father in a war-torn country. Their resilience inspires me, fills me with purpose and reminds me that I still have loved ones counting on me and rooting for me.

I’m writing all of this as I prepare to start my clerkships in January. Losing family and friends back in Syria during my time studying here has taught me to make every moment count because we may never get them back.

However, just as sometimes family was my weakness, they were also my greatest strength.

When I felt lonely and things got hard, I always remembered my family back home and that never failed to reignite my motivation and harden my will.

I owe all of my success to their sacrifices, hard work and their unconditional love and support.