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Spotlight on the Class of 2018

Sally Shobut

Associate in Arts Degree
Liberal Arts / Humanities


Syrian Refugee Pursues a Global Vision

Posted May 29, 2018 


Sally Shobut recalls that tense flight out of Syria with her family in December 2011.  “We were on the last plane to leave Damascus before the airport was closed,” she said.

Like others who fled Syria after revolution broke out, Sally was relieved but sad to depart her homeland. “I lost people…friends and relatives who were killed,” she said.  “I didn’t want to leave Syria. I wanted to stay and help.”

Though Sally didn’t stay, she has helped through vigorous activism on behalf of those left behind in Syria. This month, she received her Associate in Arts Degree in Humanities, bringing her another step closer to her dream career. “I want to work in global politics,” she said.

An ethnic Circassian who was born and raised in Syria, Sally always had a strong sense of civic duty. “During the war, I took a stand and worked with others who opposed the regime (of Bashar al-Assad),” she said.

When Sally and her family escaped, they endured a nightmare of confusion, going first to Jordan where they were nearly sent back to Syria. Eventually they made their way to the United States and settled in Wayne, New Jersey, near relatives who had fled Syria earlier.

Fluent in Arabic, English, and French, Sally took jobs in retail stores to help support her family, which includes her parents and three younger sisters.  She also enrolled at PCCC. “I planned to become a dentist,” said Sally. “It seemed like a good way to help people.”

After a year at PCCC, Sally transferred to Montclair State University (MSU), but was unable to complete her education due to the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “I was having nightmares and panic attacks,” said the 23-year-old refugee whose earlier exposure to violence and civil strife was taking its toll.

With no health insurance or access to healthcare, Sally took a break from college to recover. It was then that she discovered her true calling.

“I thought about the Syrians left behind who also had no access to healthcare,” she explained, a concern that was intensified by the sub-standard teaching facilities for medical students that Sally had observed in Syria. 

In response, she co-founded, with a friend, the Syrian Medical Students Association (SMSA).  Based in Damascus, the non-profit provides opportunities for Syrian medical students to obtain training and gain knowledge they can employ to help their country.

SMSA became part of the larger International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), a student-led, non-government organization (NGO) that aims to create a healthier and sustainable world by empowering medical students to gain the knowledge and skills they need to become global health leaders and to return to their home countries to benefit them.

“IFMS now has full ECOSOC status,” said Sally, referring to the United Nations Economic and Social Council which works to bring people together for collective action towards a sustainable world.

Last year, Sally served as IFMSA representative to the UN, advocating on behalf of the 1.3 million medical students from 130 medical organizations in 127 countries who comprise the membership.

“Doing this work helped me to cope with the PTSD,” said Sally who, during this period, had regained the strength to return to college, but with new purpose.

“I knew I didn’t want to be a dentist anymore,” she said.  Unsure of how to proceed, Sally turned to Julie McCourt of PCCC’s Academic Affairs department who encouraged her to enroll again and study Humanities instead.

“Julie helped me to define my direction,” said Sally who plans to continue her education toward a bachelor’s degree in political science and international relations at MSU and to someday pursue graduate study at her “dream school,” the London Institute of Economics and Political Science.
“Perhaps as a Fulbright scholar,” she says with confidence.

Sally recently became a U.S. citizen and devotes herself to numerous causes: teaching English to refugees through GERA (Global Emergency Response and Assistance); tutoring high schoolers; and acting as external relations associate for the organization. She is also a youth director at the Circassian Benevolent Association in Wayne.

An ardent feminist, Sally believes that real change in the Arab world will come through the efforts of women. She has appeared on United Nations TV to discuss the empowerment of Arab women and has published several papers addressing topics of human trafficking, reproductive and sexual rights, and the plight of refugees.

While working at the UN, Sally found herself among students and graduates of Ivy League colleges. “Jaws dropped when they found out I was from a community college,” she said.

Extremely grateful to PCCC for its impact on her life, Sally found the diversity at the College inspiring and the professors approachable and caring, particularly Richard Marranca, John Fruncillo, Edward Moseley, Thomas Lekeanyi, and Charles Pettiford.  “They taught not only the class material, but life itself,” she said. “They changed the way I see the world.” 

Of Julie McCourt who helped her find new direction, Sally says, “Julie stood with me every step of the way. She’s family to me.”

While she envisions a global future for herself, Sally plans to stay connected to her PCCC family. “Maybe, I’ll return to join the faculty,” she says. “I would like to give back to PCCC.”