Aistė Motekaitienė, LCC Marketing Director.
How did the Middle East Scholars program start?
From its inception LCC’s institutional vision has been to develop a generation of leaders for the countries of the former Soviet Union. We have been very successful in expanding our student recruitment in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, so it was natural for us to look to further regions in which our education could make a difference. Thus we turned to the Middle East – a region now deeply troubled by war. Our vision for developing the Middle East Scholars (MES) Program was to assist war-affected students from Syria and Iraq with an intensive English program (and supplemental support systems) on a safe campus, in order to help them transition to an English-speaking university in Canada or the US, or to remain at LCC to finish their studies. From Fall 2014 to Fall 2016 we made numerous trips to Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria to test our idea(s) and to build relationships with NGOs, churches, and United Nations agencies in order to ensure that each prospective student would come to us as the result of a referral from a trusted entity. We tested visa pathways, identified students, and visited with authorities. Our initiative met with enthusiastic responses because we were unique in offering university studies for war-affected youth.
There was a lot of humanitarian help for young children and for secondary school students, but nobody was actually taking care of the next generation of university-trained youth who will eventually become the ones to play a crucial role in the rebuilding and development of their home countries.
We brought our first Syrian students to our Klaipeda campus in summer 2016, 9 Iraqi students and 1 Syrian student in January 2017, and 4 Iraqi and 2 Afghan students in August 2017. We currently have 20 full-time students from Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan.
The MES students have become a welcome part of our larger international university community, giving them ample opportunities to make friends and to interact in English. There are many resources available, such as academic support, counseling, and evening English classes.
The fact that we have Middle Eastern students living and studying among us in Klaipeda has been a signal to the global higher education community and to the global church and to the global humanitarian entities that LCC is positioned to act, not just to talk about taking action.
We are committed to bringing as many as 15 students to LCC each year who come from war-affected areas.
Tell us more about the Middle East students who have come. From what areas did they come?
Our Syrian students came from Turkey, where they had temporary protection status after escaping Syria. Obviously these young people did not have the opportunity to attend university; therefore, LCC became an important pathway for them. Other students came from Iraq: Christians who ran from ISIS occupied areas or Yazidis who escaped persecution and ended in camps for Internally Displaced People. Overall, all of them are very grateful for the chance they have here at LCC. They also understand that they have a big role to play because they are the voice of their own people and their own country. They are representatives of their own societies.
What is your personal vision for this program?
My personal vision is that we would truly be able to serve the students who do not otherwise have opportunities for education. The program is still at an early stage; the full vision of the program is much larger. We want to help the students to improve their English in order for them to continue their studies at LCC or in universities in Canada, the US, or Europe, so that they could study the subjects that most interest them. We hope and pray that when it is safe for them to go back to their home countries, they will do so. And we hope and pray that they will be the agents of future positive change in their own countries because their education has provided them the skills and wisdom and potential to do so.
Read interviews with LCC students from Iraq on pages 2 and 3.