Arwa, a Fobzu-UNRWA scholarship recipient, speaks about student life in Gaza.
A final year student of Computer Science at the Islamic University of Gaza, Arwa has excelled throughout her course, despite the major challenges facing university students in in the besieged Strip. In this conversation with Fobzu, Arwa shares her experience and valuable insights from her time as a student, while looking forward to graduation and future plans.
- Tell us a bit about your experience as a student.
Studying at university has been great experience for me. I have always been interested in computer science, ever since I was in high school. I have also had the opportunity to take part in a number of extra-curricular activities and experiences, which have enabled me to have a holistic experience as a student. Fobzu has played a huge role in making this possible and my scholarship has made my time at university so much easier as I didn’t spend it worrying about fees and financial pressure. I was able to take part in the ‘We are not numbers’ writers project which allows people to speak about the Palestinian experience. I also took part in Leadership and communication initiatives which allowed me to teach children and young people; I taught writing and the basics of coding as well. Most recently, I took part in the Gaza Sky Geeks coding academy through which I had the opportunity to produce technical content for young people… My course has made me feel quite unrestricted, I have been able to share my writing and to work with and contribute to tech clubs which is something computer science has given me the platform to do.
- Can you tell about your student community?
My university community is nice but very small, I feel like lately there has been an increasing curiosity surrounding computer science which is good. For a long time, it has been perceived as an easy specialty because you don’t need such high grades to get into IT courses here. It is also a limited specialty at times because we are surrounded by occupation and cut off from the rest of the world here in Gaza. For example, no one tells us we need internships and practical experience; we are sometimes lost in the IT sector and discover things later because we are under these circumstances. Despite this, I have been able to access more practical knowledge and experience but this is very hard in the Gaza context.
- What were some of the challenges you faced as a student?
In a practical sense, I imagine there is a real lack of resources and organisations here in Gaza compared to other places; it is harder for us to find opportunities and resources we need. It is also difficult or impossible to travel so there are no international opportunities because leaving Gaza is so tough. We also face daily challenges here such as electricity shortages and unreliable Wi-Fi. I always have to think 10 steps ahead about things that should be readily available to us as students but because I am in Gaza, I have to consider these details carefully. I couldn’t leave Gaza easily if I wanted to, I think about this a lot. We are so cut off from the world so our university community is small and we have very limited external connections.
- How do you feel about graduating so soon?
I am really excited but a little worried about my future and what I might do. It feels like things are getting very serious very quickly. This final year is very busy both inside and outside university and it feels like there is a lot of pressure on me to complete several projects. But, I did give university its time and put in a lot of effort so I am mostly excited.
- Can you tell us about your future plans and ambitions?
In the short-term, I want to focus on building my career. I am not yet keen on the idea of doing a post-graduate degree in IT as a broad subject. I would like to build up a career where I am independent and able to live my life freely. Freedom is a huge thing and I really want to be able to have some security and freedom. I would love to work outside of Gaza and maybe even outside Palestine. I want safety. In Gaza we cannot access real safety in any meaningful way. I feel like postgraduate study is often the traditional route which is absolutely fine. For me though, I want to gain freedom and independence and then when I feel more secure, I will think about a specialty I want to study in depth. I want to be able to freely choose a specific course at a specific university that I feel is suited to me, my interests, desires and ambitions.
- How has your scholarship or degree enabled you to work towards your ambitions?
My scholarship has been the key … This grant offered me emotional and financial stability and made my path so much easier; it gave me space to think about my future and what I want from my future. It has also affected me as a human being because I also want to help other students. I believe in education and I feel it is a huge investment. So, this scholarship has made me even more attached to the idea of giving back. Throughout my course I have also felt like there have been people who have been invested in my future and my wellbeing so that there was always someone following up with me and who cared about what I want to do in future.
- Do you have any advice for future students?
Take this opportunity, apply for the scholarship and then apply yourselves. It is worth taking this seriously because it gives you a huge opportunity to excel so go for it! I would also say, it is ok not to feel like you know everything about college life, this is a discovery period which will allow you to think about the material and to discover yourself and your own interests, too. University is full of learning experiences, both academic and personal and so give it everything you have and enjoy it!