After one month on campus, New College of Florida’s inaugural Daughters for Life Scholars –from Israel, Jordan, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – are blending in with their fellow first-year students.
Najla Fawwaz has been out on Sarasota Bay with the New College Sailing Team. Not to be outdone, Loureen Sayej has been practicing with the co-ed flag football team. Rasha Masara has been holding court in a film class, while Ayah Tafesh loves studying Spanish. And Leen Al Fatafta is learning her fifth language, Hebrew, when she’s not giving dance lessons by the bay.
They are all attending New College on full four-year scholarships, the first class of scholars to be supported through a partnership between the College and the Daughters for Life Foundation. Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Gaza physician, author and activist for peace, created the Foundation in 2011 after three of his daughters were killed by Israeli shelling. His hope is that educating women will empower them to bring progress and stability to the region.
The Daughters for Life Scholars and their classmates are already learning from one another.
“My classmates are so open-minded and accepting of different viewpoints and ideas,” said Sayej, who attended high school in the West Bank. “I have made a lot of friends, and most of them are so interested in knowing about our lives.”
Their experiences are already enhancing their classes. Masara, who lives in Syria, is taking an arts and gender studies course on film. She recently introduced the class to works by the acclaimed Lebanese director Nadine Labaki. “I look up to her, and want to be a filmmaker like her,” she said.
Al Fatafta, who is from Jordan, said her fellow Daughters for Life scholars also benefit from their conversations with American students. “I think it’s really refreshing to hear opinions from a different side of the world about what goes on on our side of the world,” she said.
One example was a recent dinner organized by second-year student Allya Yourish, a member of Hillel, an organization for Jewish college students. She and three other Jewish students met the five Daughters for Life students for a buffet of Middle Eastern food at historic College Hall.
Although Yourish knew the Daughters for Life students well – she was the orientation advisor for two, and had been chatting over social media with Najla for months – there was some anxiety about how the they would get along.
“Everyone thought it was going to be harder than it was,” she said. “And from the moment they arrived on campus, we all got along so well. Every worry that I had, vanished.”
As the meal ended, they moved to the College’s bayfront to watch the sunset, took scores of “selfies” and group photos, and had an impromptu lesson in belly dancing and line dancing from Al Fatafta.
The dinner was especially welcome for Tafesh. Her arrival at New College was delayed two weeks by the recent conflict in Gaza, her home. She is just settling into classes and clubs, she said, but is finding her new classmates to be friendly and is enjoying Spanish.
Fawwaz, who plans to major in biochemistry, says her favorite class is general chemistry, with Prof. Suzanne Sherman, chair of the New College faculty. “Professor Sherman is really nice, and I find her classes entertaining,” she said. She is also taking calculus, German and general biology.
She’s also enjoying her life outside the laboratory. “New College is a really unique place,” she said. “I like that it’s a small college where you can get to know everyone easily and the professors are really nice and helpful. I am really glad I am here — although it’s a weird and a different place!”