Osaid Alser – From the minarets of Gaza to the Dreaming Spires

Current Affairs Profile

Osaid is a medical graduate (MD) from the Gaza Strip, Palestine. He is currently a student at Green Templeton College, reading for a Masters by Research (MRes) at the Nuffield Department of Orthopaedic, Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences (NDORMS).

When I was a child in primary school, I picked up a book which was used by most of my family members – it was an Oxford English dictionary. I asked my father, who trained in Dermatology in Cardiff, about the book. He told me that Oxford is one of the most famous cities in the UK. Since then, I have always longed to visit Oxford.

Coming from an isolated and tumultuous area that is considered “the largest open-air prison in the world” was full of challenges. The Gaza Strip, a tiny piece of land in Palestine, has been under a strict blockade for the last 12 years. The blockade resulted in a lack of resources, geographical isolation, travel restrictions to and from Gaza, poor infrastructure and overall an “unliveable” situation. This has a huge impact on the quality and accessibility of education and made it extremely challenging for medical students and healthcare professionals to keep abreast of their professional development.

This has a huge impact on the quality and accessibility of education

A typical student from the Gaza Strip hoping to study overseas has to apply for an exit permit through different authorities, including the Israeli, the Jordanian and the Egyptian authorities. On average, it takes about six months to hear back from them, meaning that there is a high possibility of applicants missing the university application deadlines. I was lucky enough to have been in London before coming to Oxford. During my first time in Oxford as an elective student back in 2015, I faced those same challenges. I had to wait for more than eight months to finally get my exit permit approved. I believe that my first visit to Oxford encouraged me to return, it was simply an eye-opening and a transformative experience, and I often describe it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

After several rejections from either the university or funding bodies, the farfetched dream finally became reality. I applied for about six scholarships; the first one was the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. I was shortlisted as a finalist but unfortunately didn’t get it. I must say it was a really heartbreaking moment, but at the same time this experience made me even more eager to get to Oxford. I ended up being offered three different scholarships, and I accepted one of them.

At my matriculation ceremony, Green Templeton College, University of Oxford 2018

After surviving the “unliveable” situation back home, I had to adapt to the new cultural, social and educational environment in Oxford. I went from having very limited educational resources in an underprivileged environment to having everything that supports a student to flourish while working on cutting-edge research projects. One of the first reminders of the differences in culture between Oxford and Gaza came in my first month here. It was raining and all of a sudden we had a power outage that lasted a few minutes. Everyone at my college accommodation was complaining, and when I learnt what they were complaining about, I had a flashback to what we normally have in Gaza, 4-6 hours of electricity per day! It is of course their right to complain and have higher expectations, but for me it was a reminder of how privileged I am in the UK.

After surviving the “unliveable” situation back home, I had to adapt to the new cultural, social and educational environment in Oxford.

The education system in the UK and at the University of Oxford is completely different from the one back home. I now have my own college tutor, departmental supervisors, and many peer support groups to enhance my academic environment. I am also working on a big data epidemiological project that uses one of the largest patient datasets in the UK. In contrast, in Gaza, I was among many students who had the same lecturer, without sufficient resources to undertake research and keep up-to-date with scientific developments. On the other hand, the culture is quite different here in the UK compared to Palestine. The beauty of living in a hugely diverse society is unparalleled; the community here in Oxford is a mixture of people who come from different cultural, social and religious backgrounds.

It’s now almost two years since I last saw my family, and as a person who came from a very closely knit Palestinian society, this has had a huge impact on my emotional ability to cope with living abroad. Although I feel homesick, I stay determined and I am moving forward because I believe that I have something more important to achieve. I must admit it was not easy to think about leaving my family without knowing when I would next see them. When I think about it again and again, I find it is absolutely mentally exhausting. My decision to leave my family behind and study in Oxford is a trade-off, but I don’t regret it at all! I feel grateful and privileged to have the opportunity to study at Oxford, and I hope that more students from similar backgrounds to me can have these same opportunities.

Images provided by Osaid from his graduation at the Islamic University of Gaza and his Matriculation at Oxford.