Current role: Legal Consultant at The World Bank Group
‘Congratulations, you’ve been accepted in the course International Human Rights (LLM) for the entry term Autumn 2020 at the National University of Ireland’
That’s how the journey started. As the first person and first female in my family’s generations to be admitted into a higher education course in a place very far from home, pride, happiness, and fear were the feelings that best describe how I felt. Little did I know that the pandemic was about to hit, just after I was accepted in the course.
‘Do you wish to defer?’ I was asked. After sleepless nights, long discussions with family and friends, prayers and asking for divine guidance, I decided not to defer, and placed all my faith in the unexpected.
After a 16-hour journey of crossing checkpoints, borders and the challenges of strict COVID-19 restrictions, I made it to Galway City. As a Bethlehemite girl, I could notice the similarities between Bethlehem and Galway. Not a very big city, with churches and stores on every corner. This is what Bethlehem is, except the sun shows up a lot more often than in Galway. Both are marked with history; many buildings’ stones could narrate a story. And that’s how I first started feeling at home away from home. The big difference is there is no occupation, and here, you have the ability to walk by the ocean, and have an endless feeling of peace hearing the waves. This is something that I and many Palestinians in the West Bank have been unable to experience since all the beautiful oceans and rivers have been forcibly taken from us.
I went to visit the NUI Galway campus, and it was love at first sight. The calming energy it brought me was a feeling that I will never forget. Green surroundings, and not an apartheid wall or checkpoint in sight felt like a little bit of heaven. I was like a kid in a candy store, only that this candy store was about to be closed.
Lockdowns were announced shortly after, and online classes became the new reality. I felt heartbroken. I was in a very beautiful country, enrolled in a university with a magnificent campus, but here I was in my room instead, isolated from the world and unable to fulfill what I had on mind.
Meeting my professors and my classmates on screen was strange. All the faces seemed jaded by distance and the unknown. I kept imagining what it would have been like if we were in classrooms, the classrooms that I have not seen to this very day. However, we were all willing to make the effort to meet and get to know each other, even if it meant walking in the heavy rain on the streets of Galway, sticking to social distance guidelines, covered with masks and unable to shake hands. It still mattered to us.
During this time, we have realised the value of meeting people and enjoying every moment possible. People met before the pandemic with no restrictions and no masks, and did not really know the essence and the value of that, until the reality became different.
And so, despite the odds, I was able to make friends – Irish, German, Nigerian and Indian friends whom I will cherish forever. And that’s another beautiful thing that NUI Galway has brought me – meeting the world in one place. These friends are the ones who made the second term easier after it was announced that it would be online as well. All of us were exhausted mentally and lost, but we knew we had each other, and we would make memories regardless.
In August, I submitted my thesis, and I felt proud that I made it after all. I did not only graduate with a LLM degree, but with memories full of tears, laughter, stress, and fear. I graduated with relationships and people that are not so different from a family. Most importantly, I started cherishing education even more. Most Palestinians, especially women and girls, are very protective of their education. This is a right that we fiercely fight for – as Palestinians under occupation and as women in a patriarchal society. Education is very precious and the more we learn the better. Receiving my master’s education in the midst of a pandemic made me keener to learn more. A pandemic did not stop me, and nothing ever will. It’s a ‘good greed’ as my mom and dad would call it.
The chapter in NUI Galway is over, and the door of opportunities has opened.
I am currently working remotely with the World Bank Group as a legal consultant focusing on the socio-economic inclusion of women with disabilities in 190 economies around the world. A topic that holds a big personal value to me. Although the future is always unexpected and uncertain, I would still say that my next step will probably be exploring the world a bit more, gaining more professional experience, and going ahead with my plan to do a PhD to quench my thirst for knowledge, and perhaps join the world of academia to continue the journey – to give back what I was given. It is a gift and a privilege that must be shared.
Last but not least, I hope to make a difference one day as a Palestinian woman who is like other Palestinian people – simply seeking justice, safety, and a life full of possibilities and opportunities.