Wednesday, January 22, 2020
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IL hosts a violinist, a refugee from Syria

The Chronicle of Higher Education features a question-and-answer interview with Mariela Shaker, a violinist at Monmouth College, a small liberal-arts institution in rural Illinois near the Quad Cities.


A refugee camp in Syria (cloverphoto / iStock)

It has always been her dream to come to the US. “Sadly, it happened during wartime,” she said.

The civil war in her homeland—she’s from Aleppo, Syria—forced her to flee from home in 2013. The college sponsors eight scholarships for Syrian refugees, allowing them to come to the college. Ms Shaker applied, knowing the odds were long, and got it, arriving in Illinois last year.

“Regarding Monmouth, I am still so excited about the place,” she was quoted as saying. “I still practice in the same room. I decided to come back last year because I was so attached to the place and the people here. My professors here, David and Carolyn Suda, took me in. They gave me a home. I got more than I deserved, more than I dreamed of.”

She now holds degrees from Monmouth and DePaul University in Chicago, and she has become a cultural emissary, speaking and performing more than 70 times at places like the United Nations, Lincoln Center, and the White House.

  • US ambassador to the UN, Nikki R Haley, says she’ll resign at the end of the year.

More than 5.6 million people have fled Syria in the ongoing conflict. Millions more are homeless, and some 200,000 university-age students have had to suspend their education.

Ms Shaker arrived just in time, actually: the 2017 travel ban imposed by the president bars all Syrians from entering the US, but they can still apply for admission and scholarships to colleges here. But without visas, they can’t come anymore.

“Some students with scholarships were not able to get visas to come here,” she said. “I support the president of the US trying to protect residents. But it’s unfair to ban all people who are coming here to continue their education. The Syrians who are coming here are doing so well. It’s important to judge case by case.

“People in Syria are suffering a lot there to continue their education,” she said. “They are fighting until the end to be able to find any hope. They will apply everywhere.”

Maybe Ms Shaker can do something about that while she’s here. “I would like to be the ambassador from my Syria to the US,” she told the Chronicle. “I would really love to combine music with advocacy and diplomacy.”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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