Originally from Syria, Elias Badin came to the UK to escape the dangers of the civil war. Originally settling in Brighton, Elias now has a place studying medicine at QMUL. We caught up with him to hear about his experience coming to the UK, and how he managed to overcome the odds and fulfil his dream of training to become a neurosurgeon.
23 October 2017
Of course! I was born and raised in Syria. My mother is an oral surgeon and my father is a consultant electrical engineer. They were both working in Syria and we were living a normal life before the war began. When the war started, we became fearful for our lives, however most of our relatives were staying in Syria so we decided that we would stay too. Sadly, the situation was getting progressively worse, so my father and I decided to leave. We were worried that my father would be conscripted into the army, and similarly, since I was soon to turn 18, I could have been conscripted too. My father and I left Syria on 13 July 2015, and eventually arrived in the UK on 29 September 2015.
Once I arrived, I attended free English classes and began contacting universities to see whether I would be able to use my Syrian qualifications to study medicine here. Unfortunately, I was told that I would have to complete a foundation year, which was very expensive, so I decided to go for the cheapest option and study for my A-levels. At this point, I was living in my grandparents’ one-bedroom house alongside my grandmother, grandfather, father, aunt and cousin. Sulaiman Wihba, another Syrian refugee who arrived in the UK before me, managed to join Cardinal Newman Catholic School in Hove. I thought that I should apply for admission even though I was 18 at this point. At first they were hesitant to accept me, but they eventually allowed me to join. In Syria, I studied nine subjects: maths, physics, chemistry, biology, Arabic, English, French, national politics and religion; however, Cardinal wouldn’t allow me to study biology because they felt that my English level was not at the required standard. I ended up taking maths, further maths, chemistry and physics as a result. Cardinal helped me through the university application process, asking representatives of the universities to meet with me and answer any questions I had. Cardinal also introduced me to the idea of summer schools, so I applied to one at Bath related to chemistry, and another at UEA related to chemistry and pharmacy, to both of which I was accepted. I also applied for the Social Mobility Foundation Programme at QMUL. This was one of the main reasons for applying to Queen Mary.
During my time at Cardinal, I was volunteering in the Syrian Sussex Community teaching English to older students and Arabic to younger students. Brighton College was the school that hosted us and offered us classes. Sulaiman and I met Mr Ken, Head of Relationships at the school, who soon told us that we would be receiving full scholarships to attend the college. We were unsure whether we should accept this or not because we were settled at Cardinal – we had a lot of friends and socialised a lot; however the teachers at Cardinal encouraged us to attend Brighton College as it was such a good opportunity that we couldn’t pass up. We took their English and maths exams and were offered the scholarships. I carried on with my subjects at Brighton College, also studying for an English language GCSE which turned out to be the hardest subject I studied during my A-levels.
I’ve been interested in biology from a very young age. I used to read my biology textbook in school and try to make connections between the topics and with other areas of science beyond the curriculum. I remember one occasion that particularly impressed my teacher. I was discussing the human biological clock and thought that it could work based on the amount of waste by-products in our body, and depending on this amount, it would wake us up at a different time. He was impressed but it was beyond our curriculum. At the age of 17, I was studying in my room one evening when my father went into the bathroom and began vomiting. He stopped and I heard a loud thud. I thought that maybe he was just sitting down, but I found him lying beside the toilet with his eyes closed. I saw that one of the arteries in his neck was enlarged. Luckily, my mum has a medical background so she ran to help him. At first, we thought he had hit his head so we kept him awake and called the ambulance. The ambulance wasn’t able to reach us so we ended up taking my father ourselves. Later, when my family were still at the hospital, I was in my room at home alone. I couldn’t help but think that if I was old enough and had studied medicine then I may have been able to help him faster. That was the turning point for me when I knew that I wanted to study medicine. I realised that what we did with our father wasn’t the best course of action, because we gave him a pill under the tongue and the doctor told us that this could have risked his life even further. He explained that the process my father was experiencing was forced vomiting, and when you want to force vomiting, you simulate the vagus nerve, which causes the heart rate to drop. By giving him the pill, we actually lowered his heartrate further. After this, I was particularly interested in nerves and my dream now is to become a neurosurgeon. What inspired me further was reading Do No Harm by Dr Henry Marsh. I also volunteered in a neurosurgery ward for more than six months and got to know many of the staff and join the surgeon meetings.
I like the fact that we are a very diverse community here at QMUL. Back in Cardinal, I was easily identifiable as someone who was different. It wasn’t a negative experience, but coming to Queen Mary I now feel like I’m not an outsider, and that this is my home. I’ve joined the Barts and The London Water Polo Club, and I’ve also joined the Muay Thai society. I actually practised mixed martial arts fighting in Syria for four years. I’ve also made a lot of friends and am really enjoying myself at Queen Mary. I’m very grateful to the School of Medicine for allowing me to study with them.
My immediate focus is ensuring that I develop my academic skills and improve my knowledge around medicine and neuroscience, and I also want to have made a great amount of friends. After five years, I’ll be applying for my FY1 foundation programme so I hope to earn a place studying in London or back in Brighton.