Tala Al-rousan: Crossing Borders and Studying Borders

I guess I always hated borders and never liked the idea of having to cross any just to meet other human beings

Tala Al-Rousan with Syrian refugees in Jordan.
Tala Al-Rousan with Syrian refugees in Jordan.

I have always been interested in the global challenges our world is facing today. Social activism has always been part of my life given my diverse ethnic background and passion for traveling. As a teenager living in Jordan, I was very active in a youth organization called “Crossing Borders,” which called for peace and democracy teaching in the Middle East. During medical school in Egypt, I was selected to present at a big biannual conference in Dubai called “Education Without Borders.’ After finishing medical school, I joined the medical officers at “Doctors Without Borders” and traveled to various parts of the world responding to calamities and offering free medical assistance.

I guess I always hated borders and never liked the idea of having to cross any just to meet other human beings who may, later in life, become closer to me spiritually than any geographical distances or borders. My experiences living in various parts of the world pushed me to engage with every new community in which I lived as a way to adapt to my new surroundings. There is not a single instance where I felt that this engagement did not enrich me personally. Each one brought about a flow of ideas affecting me and the communities around me.

This experience reinforced the importance of collaborative work and the impact engagement can leave on whatever research I do during my career.

After years studying medicine and experiencing the needs of diverse world cultures, my decision to pursue a degree in public health felt innate to me and brought me to the University of Iowa. While there, I had the opportunity to participate in the Obermann Graduate Institute. This experience reinforced the importance of collaborative work and the impact engagement can leave on whatever research I do during my career.

Tala-Al-Rousan
Tala-Al-Rousan

I am currently a Lown Fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. My research focuses on studying the impact of the Syrian refugee crisis on the health of refugees themselves, as well as on the host population. As the worst refugee crisis since World War II, these refugees affect the entire world. My project involves traveling to Jordan, my country of birth and the first community with which I identify, to try to more intimately understand the situation of refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. Burdened public health systems are my main area of research. These countries have been home for millions of Syrian refugees for almost five years, despite both countries’ small population size and lack of resources to cope with the huge influx of migrants.

These are lessons the most prestigious universities in the world cannot teach.

While completing my research, I spend most of my time with the refugees, listening to their stories and learning about their needs and aspirations. More importantly, they play a major role in my research beyond being study subjects. They are actively engaged in this research and inspiring me on how to move forward to better serve them and populations hosting them around the globe. I feel that these refugees are my source of hope as much as I am theirs. I have come to realize that I conduct this research for them, learning all I can about the impact science, medicine, and public health can have on their lives.

It is through this work that I see how these fields of research benefit from engaging with struggling populations because engagement brings people together and it is only in this togetherness that we learn from the communities surrounding us. These are lessons the most prestigious universities in the world cannot teach. I strive to see this research grow into tangible opportunities for the refugees as well as a means to inform the scientific community about the needs of this disadvantaged community suffering from war trauma.

~ Tala Al-Rousan, October 28, 2015, Jordan

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