Education takes UC student from immigrant to global citizen

Alrashid Abdelwahed and his family overcame great struggles to fulfill their dream of an American education

“You have to go through adventure to achieve the dream,” says Rana Faisal Raad, mother of Lindner College of Business student Alrashid “Rash” Abdelwahed. And he, along with his two older brothers, Amir and Kamal, carries that adventurous spirit with him.

The operations management major has overcome great odds to land where he is now; set to graduate in fall 2019, Abdelwahed has taken advantage of all the learning opportunities presented to him, from multiple co-op rotations to study abroad. His experiences are part of UC’s commitment to Co-op 2.0 and experience-based learning, key facets of Next Lives Here, UC’s strategic direction.

From Syria to Cincinnati

A family photo of Rash Aabdelwahed, his mother and two brothers.

Rash Abdelwahed, his mother and two brothers pictured before they came to the United States from Syria.

His family immigrated to the United States from Syria in 2002, shortly after 9/11. Raad sold all of their belongings to afford visas and plane tickets, hoping that her children could achieve the ultimate dream: an American education. Life in the U.S. and Cincinnati wasn’t easy for them, especially not when Abdelwahed’s father walked out on Raad and the three boys.

Suddenly thrust into poverty, the family worked through their struggles. Joining a local Catholic parish opened up help from Catholic Social Services of Cincinnati, as well as new friendships. But at school, the family’s financial struggles caught the attention of Abdelwahed’s classmates. Other students would pick on his shoes or clothing from Goodwill and Payless, asking if his mother made his clothes.

As English was not their first language, Abdelwahed and his brothers did the best they could to keep up with their education. They relied on the library to teach them everything they needed to know about American English and culture. “A lot of the English we learned was from books we read and movies we checked out,” Abdelwahed recalls. “I would rent 'Shrek' all the time. I could probably still quote the movie. I drove my mom nuts.”

Inspiring journeys

Rash and his mother Rana pose in front of a brick wall covered in ivy.

Rash Abdelwahed and his mother Rana Raad shown on campus at UC.

To support her sons, Raad spent each day as a preschool teacher in Over-the-Rhine, a nanny in the evening and, after some time, an interpreter for courts on lunch breaks. At night, she studied for a degree from Cincinnati State Technical Community College. On weekends, the whole crew would volunteer with Catholic Social Services or their church.

Once his mother had her degree, she got more involved in interpreting, moving from municipal court cases to hospital translations to federal trials. Ultimately, the courtroom had her heart. With $700 in her bank account, she used the last of the family’s money to pay for a ticket to D.C. and to take a test to become an interpreter for the U.S. Department of State. “If I passed the exam,” Raad said, “they were going to reimburse me. If I failed, they wouldn’t. So I told the boys, ‘If I’m going to fail, Mama’s going to come back walking.’” She passed.

By 2013, she was the only certified judiciary Arabic interpreter in the Midwest, and was picked by the U.S. Department of Defense to be the head interpreter of the 9/11 trials in Guantanamo Bay. While Abdelwahed was still finishing his degree at Walnut Hills High School, Raad spent almost one and a half years traveling back and forth from the trials. During this time, Abdelwahed’s older brothers looked after him and made sure he kept on track.

Influenced by his older brother Kamal, a 2016 Lindner College of Business graduate, Abdelwahed decided to pursue a degree in operations management at UC. He has co-oped at prestigious companies like Boeing, learning first-hand about business logistics.

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The skyline of Hong Kong at night, lit up in neon colors.

Big city, small world

However, Abdelwahed’s exchange semester at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong proved to be one of his most eye-opening experiences. “I arrived and just looked up,” he said. “These 100-story buildings — endless. You just look up and wonder.”

During his studies, Abdelwahed found himself the odd man out. Unlike other exchange students, he took upper-level maritime courses, learning topics like air transport logistics. Out of the 30 people enrolled, he was the only non-native student.

“I picked Asia because it’s the furthest away from home, so completely out of my comfort zone. I don’t know the language,” explains Abdelwahed. “And with my major being operations management, I knew Hong Kong was the place to be for operations and logistics.” And yet, in a world so far from home, he still managed to find reminders of Cincinnati. From running into a former high school classmate on the street to being randomly assigned a UC roommate, Abdelwahed was able to find his footing in the large metropolis.

Abdelwahed says his biggest highlight, academically, was an exclusive tour of DHL’s airport headquarters in Hong Kong. Through UC professor Catalin Macarie’s connections, Abdelwahed was able to join a group of students from Louisiana State University’s MBA program as they made their way through the headquarters and viewed the company’s fleet of air carriers and machines processing almost 10,000 packages per minute. The experience, he says, was invaluable.

Next horizons

Abdelwahed was thankful for the support he received from UC International throughout his study abroad experience. A couple of weeks into the semester, Hong Kong was hit with a level 10 typhoon — the strongest ever to hit the city. Study abroad advisor Crystal Craycraft, who had helped Abdelwahed through his application process, immediately reached out to ask if he was safe.

He was, and went on to have more once-in-a-lifetime experiences, including trying new foods, motorbiking across Vietnam, and spending ten days in the northern jungles of Thailand. After graduation, Abdelwahed plans to return to Hong Kong or China to work in the logistics or international shipping industry. He credits the United States, UC and his mother’s adventurous attitude for helping him achieve his dreams.

“If it weren’t for being in the United States, none of these opportunities would have been presented to me,” Abdelwahed said in a speech to UC International strategy group members at a year-end celebration. “I am thankful to my mother, because I would not be here today if it weren’t for all her sacrifices and determination to make a better life for my family. I am thankful to my brother Kamal for pushing me to attend UC and become the person I am today. And finally, I am most grateful to the United States for opening its borders and allowing me to become a citizen.”

Expand your world

Prepare yourself for a global future. Whatever your program or passion, UC offers study abroad and international work experiences that will take you where you want to go. Explore the possibilities.