Please note: This was published over a year ago. Phone numbers, email addresses and other information may have changed.
Hasan Alhamwi is thrilled to be a PCC student ambassador
Photos and Story by James Hill
Following the civil war that broke out in Syria, Hasan Alhamwi found himself in no man’s land. He was studying civil engineering in the northern Syrian town of Aleppo in 2012 when he abruptly left the country as rebel fighting and terrorist attacks encroached on his government-controlled city.
“Even my university in Syria was shelled many times,” Alhamwi said. “It was not a secure place at all. There was no chance to go back there after I left. It was a strange feeling. I felt suddenly my country had been stolen.”
He traveled to nearby Saudi Arabia to live with his father and plot a new course for his academics. But he learned he couldn’t transfer the credits he earned in Syria to any school abroad. Like himself, the credits were lost in the turmoil of the Middle East.
Alhamwi’s dream was to study abroad in an English-speaking country like the United States. However, because he was a visitor in Saudi Arabia he couldn’t apply for a U.S. student visa at the American embassy. After difficulties in securing a Saudi residency, he moved to the United Arab Emirates, got his resident status and applied for a U.S. visa from there. When he was awarded the visa, it had ended a process that took more than a year.
“I felt so great,” Alhamwi said. “This was my opportunity even though it’s a very sad situation that is happening at home in Syria, but somehow it made me pursue my childhood dream and eventually get to study abroad to get a degree in one of the English-speaking countries where I feel the education system is very advanced. I started looking everywhere, but it was really by chance I found PCC and chose the U.S. There are several reasons for choosing PCC, but the basic things are that it is is accessible, affordable, and is in a very peaceful, beautiful city.”
Alhamwi arrived at PCC in winter 2014 and since enrolling in the Civil & Environmental Engineering Program at the Sylvania Campus, he’s cultivated a 4.0 grade-point average and has been involved with numerous student clubs and organizations. Most impressive is that he learned English in one term by using services where volunteers assist non-native speakers with their English. He would eventually place at college-level English after taking PCC’s placement test.
“I spent many hours speaking with random volunteers practicing conversation,” Alhamwi said. “It was really fast. I was able to skip three levels of English classes in just one term. I love English, which is why I was able to learn it quickly.”
This love of learning and volunteer work (he helps PCC’s Office of International Education assisting new international students with college life) has led to Alhamwi being selected as one of 10 students in the inaugural Student Ambassador Program. The program is an honorary group of student volunteers that promote college activities and represent PCC at special events on campus and in the community. Those include PCC’s Day at the Capitol, Portland City Club, local rotary events, fundraisers, college commencement, PCC Foundation scholarship functions, college president events, and many more. Plus, it gives students like Alhamwi experience, skills and networking opportunities to assist in their professional pursuits.
“Employers, colleges and universities are looking for more than just good grades; they want community involvement and service,” said Rob Wagner, Associate Vice President for Advancement. “Through this program, student ambassadors get to develop a wide range of transferrable skills that will benefit them while at PCC and beyond.
“Hasan exemplifies the qualities we were looking for, as do all of the students who were selected last fall,” he added. “His incredible journey to the U.S. and to PCC is inspiring. And to be able to relocate, acclimate and thrive here in Oregon in such a short amount of time is a testament to his character. Hasan is exactly the type of student leader that can benefit from this program.”
And Alhamwi is making new friends as he attends official PCC events representing students and greeting visitors. His favorite moment was at the opening for the college’s new Southeast Campus in October where he got to meet leaders from all over the state and city.
“I got to talk with a U.S. senator,” Alhamwi said with a smile. “It was a really a new experience for me and was a nice time.”
Alhamwi is having too much of a nice time studying at PCC to think of a return to Syria. Right now, he’s focused on earning his associate’s degree and transferring to Portland State University to get his bachelor’s degree in Civil & Environmental Engineering. After that, he wants to work in the U.S. for a time to gain experience in the engineering field. For now, Syria is a long way off.
“Not in the near future, but maybe after the end of the crisis, I’ll go back and participate in reconstructing my country,” Alhamwi said. “It is an open door for me, but I’m happy here. I feel as I study here I’m building my future with a really strong base.”