Sitting in the Library at Southampton University, you could be forgiven for thinking Mohammad Leily looks much like the other medical students he is with.
But his story is rather different. Mohammad is a Syrian refugee.
“It’s been a tough four years for me,” said Mohammad. “But by working hard and making new friends and all the support I get from colleges and friends, that’s what made it happen.”
“I had to do one year of English,” he said. “Then I did my GCSEs then two years of A Levels. So basically it took me four years to kind of pick up where I left back there.
“I’m very proud actually. When we first arrived here my dad put a target for us, like five years to get in [to university]. I think I’ve actually done it in four years so I’m very proud.”
“One of the lucky ones”
When Mohammad finished high school in 2013, he was doing what many young people his age were doing: preparing to go to university.
But Syria was getting increasingly unstable. Mohammad was forced to give up his place at Damascus University and come to the UK with his family.
“My family were one of the lucky ones,” he said. “We were able to provide all the evidence we needed to the authorities.”
Unlike many people from his country, his family was able to fly from Turkey to the UK. His family first settled in a shared hostel in Cardiff.
“They put all of the asylum seekers together, which was pretty tough,” he said. “But then now when I think about that I think it was a good chunk of my life really, maybe changed me a little bit, learned from the experience.”
His family was then moved to Plymouth. It was here that Mohammad attended college.
After receiving support from Red Cross, Mohammad decided to join as a volunteer in 2014.
He helped support new refugees in Plymouth. “It was important to help people who have similar experiences to mine,” he said.
In 2015 Mohammad started volunteering with the crisis education team at the Red Cross, teaching refugee and migration classes and first aid workshops in schools.
“I found it really interesting and it was great to inspire others and also develop my English skills,” he said.
“You never know when you might need to use [life-saving skills]. It is important that young people have the confidence and willingness to help in a first aid emergency – it makes such a difference.”
“It is remarkable what many Syrian refugees do”
After all his hard work, Mohammad is looking forward to getting on with his medical degree.
The Red Cross is working right across the UK to welcome refugees like Mohammad.
Mohammad is keen to point out that many of them have bright futures.
“I think it is remarkable what many Syrian refugees do actually,” he said. “On the results day I heard on the news so many other Syrian refugees who make it to university, doing different courses, many of them did medicine as well.
“What we try to do here, I think, what many refugees try to do as well, [is] to work hard here, work for the country who actually welcomed us.
“[We] hope that one day we can go back, after everything has settled down, to rebuild.
“This is a very big hope for me, if the war stops and stuff settles down, I hope I will go back one day.”