MELBOURNE – A Syrian refugee, who could not speak English when he arrived Australia two years ago, has graduated from an Australian high school with top honors, getting a chance to achieve his dream of becoming a doctor.
“I’m feeling so, overwhelmed. I’m feeling so happy and so pleased,” Saad Al-Kassab told SBS on Monday, December 12.
Saad earned a 96.65 on an Australian college admissions test, toping his school’s class 12.
He graduated dux, the Australian equivalent of valedictorian, from one of the country’s largest Catholic high schools.
Arriving Australia in June, 2014, he tried to learn the language with a novel way of teaching.
“I would watch parliament, and question time,” the 19-year-old told SBS.
“In general, they speak slowly, to get the message across. It was not easy, but I was able to separate the words.”
It was also an opportunity to learn about his safe, new country.
“I find politics fascinating. Especially here, the democratic system,” he said.
“In Syria, all they do in parliament, is clap. So it was really fascinating for me to find out how the democratic system works.”
Saad decided to continue his education after Sydenham Catholic Regional College in Melbourne’s north west gave him a job as a gardener.
With the help of the school teachers, he was offered a scholarship, and drove more than an hour every day to complete his VCE.
Saad’s elation was out of reach for just a few years ago, when he and his family were in the midst of Syria’s bloody war in the war-torn, besieged city of Homs.
“We were on the front line,” Saad’s father, Abdul Al-Kassab, told SBS.
“We were dead. If you lose your country, your houses, your relatives, you are nothing.”
“I watched my kids every day. I wonder who’s going to be killed. Or arrested, or kidnapped. It was very difficult for us.”
He set up a makeshift school, at home. His mother, a chemical engineer, became his teacher.
“I bought books, for Year 9 and Year 10, and I started to study at home with my mum.”
With little more than the clothes on their back and the dream of a better life, two years ago Australia became their new home.
“You feel you don’t belong to a land, or a country. So when a country like Australia gave us refuge, gave us the right to come here and live here, we felt like we came back to life,” said Al-Kassab.
Getting a new scholarship to Monash University, he hopes to study medicine and help his people in Syria by working with Doctors Without Borders one day.
“That was really heartbreaking for me, that made me determined that I should be that guy, who will help those people.”