Correction: This article was changed at 1:25 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 18 to correct the spelling of Sara Al Bassri’s name.
Sara Al Bassri, a Syrian refugee, escaped the war zone in Syria five years ago and came to the United States. She graduated from Cal State Fullerton last spring.
Accompanied by her mom, Al Bassri said she was finally reconnected with her father, who had already been living in the U.S.
Despite her family successfully immigrating to the United States, Al Bassri said it wasn’t their plan to stay in the country very long. She said her family had hopes of returning to their native country.
“My dad came first, and then after the situation got worse in Syria and I wasn’t able to study, me and my mom traveled,” Al Bassri said. “I wasn’t intended to stay here, I thought I was going to go back and then it didn’t work out.”
Al Bassri said because she couldn’t get U.S. citizenship; she cannot return to Syria.
“My passport is expired and if I travel, I’m afraid I can’t come back here,” she said.
Al Bassri said she wanted to go to pharmacy school, but ended up graduating with a degree in biochemistry.
She struggled understanding English when she first arrived and began to teach herself the new language through YouTube videos.
“Once I got here, everything didn’t make any sense. I might know some English, but it didn’t make sense to me, how I heard it. I started listening to songs, movies and a lot of YouTube videos,” Al Bassri said.
Wylie Ahmed, an assistant physics professor, said he couldn’t believe she had trouble with English.
“The first time I found out that she was having problems with English was when I read her personal statement, which was very well-written, and she mentioned that she had problems with it. Her English is pretty much perfect. It’s as good as any native English speaker’s anyway,” he said.
Al Bassri said she decided to pursue her master’s in physics and work on research involving non-equilibrium dynamics of colloidal swimmers and ultimately, become a biomedical engineer.
She was able to use her biochemistry background to enter the new field of science.
Ahmed and Al Bassri started a project together involving micro-swimmers, and eventually Al Bassri was convinced to stay at CSUF for graduate school, Ahmed said.
Her focus is trying to understand the movement of tiny molecules such as swimmers, which are man-made microorganisms or bacteria, Ahmed said.
Al Bassri said she preps the swimmers, covers them with a slide and places it under a microscope. To further break down the microscopic image, she relies on computer programs to enlarge what she observes.
Ahmed said their bigger goal is to eventually engineer or create swimmers that can transport drugs or perform self-assembly.
Outside the lab, Al Bassri said she is a taekwondo instructor. This is where she can unwind and relieve her stress.
“Sara is one of those amazing people, where she has overcome a lot and you would never know it. She never lets it show,” Ahmed said. “In the lab, it’s different. There’s research challenges, which are very different especially transitioning from biochemistry to physics, but she’s overcome everything.”