Class of 2014
On her first visit to her ancestral homeland of Palestine in 2008, Leena Asfour experienced a deeply underprivileged society where medical care was scant and people lived without access to good jobs or safety.
Leena grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and spent several years in Dubai, where she spent time at her mother's chiropractic office and developed a love for the feeling of a clinic. She knew from a young age that she wanted to be a doctor. But it was that "life-altering" trip to the West Bank that cemented her decision.
"It was extremely disheartening to go there," she says of her three-day trip. "They are trapped. They cannot get an education. The sanitary conditions were terrible and there were few doctors. My aspiration now is to go back and work in Palestine."
Driving back and forth from Jordan, where her family was staying in a hotel, to the West Bank, was also a trying experience. The border crossing was arduous and invasive.
"It took eight hours," she says. "They did these invasive searches. It was so frustrating."
These observations of life in the West Bank and her discussions with people about the issues inspired her to develop a documentary about the story of Palestine (The Palestinian Story), which she hopes will help preserve the history of the tumultuous area.
"Palestinian history is a dying history, a history that cannot survive because it is not passed on to the next generation — not just in the US but everywhere, including the Middle East," she says.
Coming to NYU Abu Dhabi is a natural choice for Leena, who remains close-by her parents, four sisters, and younger brother, who currently are living in Jordan, and feels comfortable in an Islamic society. She can continue her love of horse riding and learning more about Islam.
At NYU Abu Dhabi, Leena plans to be heavily involved with a student-run association that will educate others about the Middle East and, among the diverse student body, highlight holidays and special events from the cultures of the international students on campus.
The project is similar to the International Students Association at her high school in Dubai, where she was a copresident.
Driven to create real change in the world, she has devoted herself fully to her studies — especially biology and chemistry. Leena scored top marks on the SATs and ranked in the top five percent of her class, and is ready to dedicate herself to a premedical track.
With, the trip to Palestine plays a major role in her beliefs. While tolerance and understanding are important to creating a better world, she says the only way to solve real-world issues is to do something. In her case, she wants to "help heal the miracle that is the human body and earn a living alleviating pain."
"The only thing that really makes a difference is physical action," she says.