Thursday, June 19, 2014

Student success profile: Former refugee finds success at Grossmont College

Raafat Samuail
Raafat Samuail knows how to overcome adversity.

A refugee of the Iraq war who fled to Turkey in 2008 before immigrating to the United States the following year, Samuail didn’t know a word of English when he and his family settled in El Cajon. No matter. Samuail, 24, immersed himself in English as a Second Language classes before enrolling at Grossmont College. He graduated with an associate degree in June and is now on his way to UC San Diego, where he will study computer programming.

He was named a Grossmont Student of Note in May. The awards are given to students who overcame obstacles on their path to graduation.

Samuail downplays the struggles he has been forced to endure. “There is nothing easy in life,” he said. “Everybody is going to find difficulties. But we have come far. Thank God for everything.”

EOPS counselor Pearl Lopez nominated Samuail for the Student of Note recognition. She wrote that Samuail, who also goes by the first name of David, has dealt with more challenges than adapting as a war refugee.

For a year and a half, David’s mom became gravely ill and she was in and out of the hospital for weeks at a time,” Lopez wrote. “David would spend countless nights at the hospital, sleeping on the chair. He would also go to all of his mother’s appointments to translate since she doesn’t speak any English. 

“During his time here at Grossmont, David never took less than 15 units each semester and went to school every summer and never worked less that 20 hours a week. Even so, David’s GPA never went down. He continued to receive A’s and B’s in all of his classes and persevered in his determination to earn his degree and complete his educational goals.”

Samuail grew up in the Iraqi capital of Bagdhad during the reign of dictator Saddam Hussein. “Before the war, people got along. After the war, I don’t know what happened. It wasn’t the same. It became really hard even to go to church. The security situation was getting worse and worse and worse.”

Food and water were scarce. Civilians were killed routinely. When his older brother was kidnapped and later released, the family opted to flee for Turkey. But life there was just as challenging. Samuail and his family, Chaldean Christians, were targets of discrimination and were not allowed to work.

The family decided to make a new home within the large Chaldean community in El Cajon. Samuail didn’t know what to expect. “I didn’t even know where was San Diego,” he said.

But the family adjusted to life in America. Samuail’s older brother went into business and now runs a liquor store. Samuail initially planned to study criminal justice en route to becoming a police officer. He changed his mind, however, and now wants to use his acumen in computer science to go into cyber-security.

“Grossmont College is a really good school,” Samuail said. “Everybody has helped me so much, especially the EOPS office. I get tremendous support. And Pearl Lopez was like a second mother for me. I am very lucky.”