Editor’s note: This is the first part of a two-part essay.
In 1988, at the age of 16, I left Yemen with a one-way ticket to the United States and with only one goal in mind: to get high-quality education, earn a university degree and return to live with my family and serve my country. After obtaining my bachelor’s degree in chemistry, I considered returning to Yemen, but the job prospects there were poor. Having discovered my passion for research, I decided to pursue graduate studies and obtained my Ph.D. in biological chemistry in 2000. The first few years after graduation were tough. I was always torn between the feeling of guilt for abandoning my country and my parents, and my desire to follow my passion and protect the investments and achievements I had made during the 12 years I spent in the United States.
In 2000, I accepted a job offer in the Center for Neurologic Diseases at Harvard Medical School. It was a life-changing experience that paved the way for me to secure a faculty position and launch my independent research program at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. After 32 years, I am still living and working outside Yemen.
This is not only my story, but the story of thousands of Arab students, scientists, engineers, and medical doctors who left their country with the dream of returning and helping make it a better country. This is also the story of hundreds of thousands of students and professionals who fled their homelands because of wars, economic hardship, and political or religious persecution. All left in search for a place where they could be safe, realize their potential, and secure a better and life for themselves and their families.