Syrian teenager who studied on his mobile phone is going to Cambridge University

Abdullah Kattineh

Education in emergencies, Technology and education

Abdullah Kattineh's family couldn't afford textbooks so he had to read them on his tiny screen - now all his hard work has paid off.

Abdullah Kattineh’s house in war-torn Damascus had no electricity for 18 hours a day. His family couldn’t afford to buy textbooks, so all his studies were done on a small mobile phone screen.

Despite the conditions, the 19-year-old studied hard and was amazed to be rewarded with a place at world-famous Cambridge University.

But his dreams seemed to be turning to dust when he discovered the fees and other costs were going be more than £48,000 ($63,000) a year. Now, after starting his own fundraising campaign, Abdullah has been told Corpus Christi College has offered him a full scholarship, covering all of his fees and living costs.

The teenager said he was “astonished” by the offer and “excited” to be heading to Cambridge to begin his studies in October.

“It’s my ultimate honour to be the only Syrian student who got admitted to Cambridge University this year. I can’t by any language express what this chance means to me.”

Abdullah said he hoped his story will inspire other young Syrians. More than two million children and youth are out of school in Syria and a large number are at risk of dropping out.

Corpus Christi College

Abdullah has been accepted to read natural sciences in the UK at Corpus Christi College (Corpus Christi College / Facebook)

He added: “I may not be much of a hero but living in a war-torn country definitely places me among the ranks of the underprivileged. The Syrian war took our lives to new extremes.

“Most Syrian people were paralysed by the outcomes of the crisis – from the cost of living to the possibility of losing your best friend or family member at any moment. 

“I’ve always been a dreamer and those circumstances made me even more determined to achieve my dreams.”

Abdullah, who will study natural sciences, said his goal is to become “one of the best chemists in the world”.

He said the first step on that journey came when he was in the 10th grade at school and took part in the Syrian Chemistry Olympiad competition.

“What I remember the most was the joy I felt studying all these materials and gaining that huge amount of knowledge in chemistry,” he said. 

“However, I can’t dismiss from my mind how difficult it was to study without electricity 18 hours a day, or how difficult it was to study all the books from a 4.5-inch mobile phone screen because we couldn’t afford to buy the original books or a device with a bigger screen.”

In 2016, Abdullah won a bronze medal at the International Chemistry Olympiad.

That led to him applying to Cambridge University’s Corpus Christi College. All of his costs will be covered by the college and the Cambridge Trust – a body that awards grants to overseas students studying at the university.

Corpus Christi College admissions tutor Dr Michael Sutherland told the Cambridge News: “Abdullah has overcome tremendous obstacles to win the place at Corpus and we want to support him and ensure he is fully funded and able to concentrate on his studies and new life here.”

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