Dunya and Midia Shaalan have come a long way since March 20, 2003, the night their lives changed forever. They were small children living in Baghdad, Iraq when the quiet, overnight hours were interrupted by the United States bombing their home city. “We hid in the bathroom for an entire day,” remembered Midia. “My brother was just one week old,” added Dunya. “Our whole family stayed in the bathroom. It was the only room in our house without a window.”
Two years later their family would move to Syria. In 2009 the Shaalan’s applied to come to the United States. In 2012, as civil war was breaking out in Syria, the Shaalan’s were granted permission to move to America. By that time, they were a family of seven. “It was very hard when we first arrived,” said Dunya. “We didn’t know anyone and we didn’t speak English. At first all we knew how to say was ‘yes,’ ‘no’ and ‘thank you.’”
Dunya (pronounced DOON-ya) had attended high school in Syria. Midia (pronounced MEE-dee-uh) was two years younger and would go to Syracuse’s Corcoran High School, graduating in 2015. That fall both sisters started taking classes at OCC. They quickly immersed themselves in the campus community, receiving assistance from the Educational Opportunity Program, the Collegiate Science Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program along with OnPoint for College. Both worked tirelessly and became outstanding students. Dunya was inducted into international honor society Phi Theta Kappa (PTK). Midia will be joining PTK this semester. “We are very proud of ourselves,” said Dunia. We have had to work so hard to improve ourselves and get where we are.”
High academic honors are just the beginning for the Shaalan’s. Last month they were sworn-in as American citizens. Next May, Midia will earn her degree in Architectural Technology. Dunya will complete work toward her Interior Design degree in December 2018. Both feel fortunate they came to college here. “OCC gives you a really good opportunity. I have really loved the experience,” said Midia. “Your life is like a building. OCC gives you a really good foundation so you will be prepared wherever you go next,” said Dunia.