Syrian student fell in love with Iowa during a family visit, stayed to complete BA in music, then PharmD

Mousa Abuissa first saw the UI campus when he was on a vacation with his parents and sister, who had traveled from Syria to visit his uncle in Iowa City. Nearly eight years later, and after also completing a BA in music, he’s receiving a Doctor of Pharmac

Mousa Abuissa first saw the UI campus when he was on a vacation with his parents and sister, who had traveled from Syria to visit his uncle in Iowa City. Nearly eight years later, and after also completing a BA in music, he’s receiving a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. Photo by Tim Schoon.

By Lynn Anderson Davy, Iowa Now  

The first time Mousa Abuissa saw the University of Iowa campus, he was on a vacation with his parents and sister, who had traveled from Syria to visit his uncle in Iowa City. At the end of the trip, Abuissa’s parents asked him if he wanted to stay. His answer, he recalls, was an emphatic “Yes.”

“Sometimes my spontaneous nature gets me in trouble, but this time, I think it led me to something very special,” says Abuissa.

This was back in 2009, and Abuissa was a second-year student studying music and economics at the University of Damascus. But once he made the decision to tear up his return ticket, he was focused on making his new academic home at the UI.

Abuissa will receive his Doctor of Pharmacy degree Thursday, May 11, and is one of nearly 5,000 UI students who will graduate during commencement ceremonies at the end of the spring semester.

At first, Abuissa, whose knowledge of life on an American campus came almost entirely from films and TV, was overwhelmed by the reality of lecture halls and residence-hall living. The first time he attended a lecture, the professor spoke so quickly that Abuissa couldn’t keep up. When he eventually moved from his uncle’s house into a residence hall, he was disappointed to learn he had to do his own laundry.

“In Syria, students live with their parents and the parents do all the work, all the cooking and laundry,” says Abuissa. “I wasn’t used to doing these things for myself.”

Abuissa spent about a year improving his English (he had to take the TOEFL exam to complete his UI application), catching up on science courses, and working with UI staff to transfer credits from Syria. Already an accomplished cellist, he started taking lessons with Anthony Arnone, associate professor of cello at the UI, and began performing with the UI Symphony Orchestra. Read more...

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