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Editorial: From the wars of Yemen to the walls of UMN

Adjusting to academic life in the United States is no small feat.
Image by Sarah Mai

Having lived in Yemen for 18 years, I have witnessed how difficult life circumstances shape the daily lives of people.

Despite the economic disruption and the ongoing conflict, which made it difficult to afford to live, higher education was a luxury. Many students struggle to navigate the harsh realities of wars while pursuing advanced degrees.

It is the dream of most students in Yemen to have the opportunity to escape the country and study abroad. 

My family believed the key to lead a successful life is education. They did not hesitate to invest in my education regardless of their hard circumstances. Schools would frequently close multiple times during the year because of strikes. Most teachers won’t come to school. Only rich people in Yemen can afford taking their kids to private schools. Most families in Yemen, including mine, are not that rich. 

I attended Seiyun Model Secondary School (SMSS), where I received a fairly good education. SMSS is funded by the Hadhramout Foundation (HF), a nonprofit organization that provides the best quality education to the brightest students in Yemen.

HF has one bold mission: to improve the development in Yemen through education. In other words, HF invests in providing the best education to the smartest students in Yemen such that they can become active agents for positive change. The chairman of HF is Abdullah Bugshan, a native of Yemen whose family immigrated to Saudi Arabia. He invested his time, effort and energy to improve the abject conditions of Yemen through education. 

Throughout my experience studying for twelve years in Yemen, I was inspired to achieve the highest academic performance possible. I, in the national high school exam, which is taken by thousands of students, placed among the top students, which afforded me the opportunity to study abroad.

Although I used to be a successful student academically, physics in particular captivated my imagination. I would spend days and nights trying to familiarize myself with various theoretical concepts in physics. At first, I struggled to understand the arcane concepts of physics, but through a process of self learning, I was able to make great strides. 

The COVID-19 pandemic took place during my first year in high school, when I was taking my first physics courses. Since the pandemic started, I have been curiously skimming through random advanced topics in physics. I would sit in my place for days trying to make sense of them.

Hence, I began to develop an interest in physical science and I consequently started self studying the mathematical foundations of such profound concepts. As a result, I decided to pursue my undergraduate degree in physics here at the University of Minnesota. 

Since I was well recognized in my high school for my background in physics, I was nominated to participate in an international physics competition with the seven Arabian Gulf countries, representing Yemen in this annual scientific event. Through this experience, I got to explore my interest in physics with students across the Middle Eastern region.

I was able to find a community of like minded students with whom I can converse about my latest learnings of physics. I found the sense of competition with my colleagues a motivating factor that keeps me invested to stay abreast with the latest research in physics.

After a while, I transitioned into a new life.

I came all the way from Yemen to Minnesota. Even though I had many good alternatives, I chose University as the destination of my journey. Several reasons have contributed to my choice.

First, the University has a good combination of a good physics program and flexible curriculum, offering many alternative ways to orient myself within the academic curriculum. Second, I am intrigued to explore the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area, which is a thriving place full of new opportunities.  

The transition from Yemen to Minnesota has been smooth, because I have many connections in Minnesota. Apart from the severe cold weather, I easily found myself at home through the native community and the rich local culture.

Right now, I am continuously acclimating myself to the culture of Minnesota generally and University specifically. I am a native Arabic speaker and always interested to engage in language exchange with students, who are interested in the Arabic language and culture. 

I am fortunate to have the opportunity to escape the danger of Yemen to the safety of Minnesota. Furthermore, I am grateful to have the luxury to receive world-class education here at the University. I aspire to deploy the mindset and skillset I learn here to improve the conditions of Yemen. 

Abdulrahman Baobaid is a physics student at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.

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