I am applying to dental school as a disadvantaged student for various reasons. I was born and raised in a small town named XXXX in rural Lebanon for the first few years. By 2006, years of war between Hezbollah and Israel would destroy much of our village. Life with my parents and three siblings was a struggle as far back as I can remember. It didn't get much easier even after my most formative years here in America.
My mother had little formal education, and it remains a great struggle for her to make herself understood in English, even after years spent living in America. My father was a middle school teacher in our hometown in Lebanon, where teachers do not make handsome salaries. While we liked to think of ourselves as middle class, the sad reality was that what my father earned barely put the necessary food on the table. Underserved in every way, my impoverished childhood did help to make me strong and resourceful in a certain sense, learning to live with deprivation as a way of life. Education was an uphill battle.
My parents came to the United States in 2000 with the help of my uncle, who had immigrated previously. I was six and will never forget when I felt the airplane touch the runway and the mix of worry and jubilation on my parents’ faces. I would spend the next five years in America learning many things, most notably English, until my father got the idea to return to Lebanon and took me with him, leaving my mother and older brothers behind, arriving in 2006 not long before the most devastating conflict of the long-simmering war.
I remember feeling hungry often at several points in my childhood when we had insufficient money to buy enough food. Food seemed to be in short supply, and I could never eat as much as I would have liked. Once we arrived in America, we lived with my uncle for a couple of weeks in a cramped apartment, and my father started working in a gas station; in this way, we could move into our tiny studio apartment with the old plaster falling off the walls. For weeks on end, then six years old, I listened to my parents fretting over how to pay the rent and other expenses, so I told my father to find me a job so I could work and help him.
My grandmother was very ill during that time, and an essential part of what my father earned pumping gas, went back to Lebanon to cover the costs of her care. Throughout those first five years in America, I remember a constant cloud of economic insecurity always hanging over our heads – even though my father often worked a double shift at the gas pump. To this day, I remain uncertain whether the stress level helped or inhibited my ability to learn English after my arrival. In some ways, it helped because I wanted to get a job as a child, and I thought I would need it.
What made growing up especially difficult for me, looking back, is that I grew up partly in the USA and partly in Lebanon, thus speaking Arabic with an English accent and English with an Arabic accent. This presents no problem, but when I was a child and an adolescent, my pronunciation in both cultural contexts distanced me from my mainstream peers. Being bullied, made fun of, and being an outcast had advantages. I was able to spend much of my time with books rather than friends, preparing for my professional future.
In 2006, I was 12, and I remember like it was yesterday the sound of bombs and missiles flying over our house before we grabbed what we could and fled to where we felt a little bit safer from the terror raining down from the sky. For my senior year of high school, I returned to the US by myself and earned my high school degree in English. Later I attended a local community college while working full-time as an auto mechanic – which I had learned to do in Lebanon. As an undergraduate, I made the Dean’s List despite working long hours in a restaurant and later as an Uber driver, paying my way and helping my family as best I could. While my grades tumbled a bit in my junior year at Boston University due to a family emergency, I finished with a 3.8 GPA for my senior year, which I feel more accurately reflects my academic potential than the overall cumulative GPA.
I thank you for considering my application for disadvantaged student status.