Dima Altabbaa is a 24 year old Syrian national studying on a one year MBA programme at the School.
Despite being one of the youngest students in her cohort, she came to the School with over two years’ experience as an auditor at Deloitte, Syria.
‘It was always my plan to pursue an MBA. I wanted to be exposed to new ideas and meet people from all over the world,’ said Dima. ‘We have people from over 58 nationalities within the class. I think this is very special to Oxford and one of the main reasons I wanted to come to the School.’
Dima first moved from Syria in 2010 to take a degree in business administration with emphasis in accounting at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. After graduating in 2013, she initially sought work in the United Arab Emirates. ‘I was offered a position there, but problems with my visa meant I couldn’t take the job. That’s when I saw the auditor role at Deloitte, Syria. I decided to apply, and they offered me the job.’
Not many people would willingly return to their country in the midst of a war, but Dima knew the difference it would make to her career. ‘I had to prioritise,’ she said, ‘would my focus be on having fun, somewhere safer? Or should I really further my career in a job I knew could change my life? It was an almost unreasonable decision to have to make.’
By 2014 Dima was living back in Syria. ‘Of course it was very difficult. I had returned for visits during my undergraduate degree, but had not really noticed the change. However, when I came back I realised that almost all my friends had left the country.’
Dima offers a perspective on life in Syria that is often missed from western news coverage. ‘People still get up at 8 and go to work, they still have businesses to run and lives to live. You cannot forget that your country is going through a difficult time; the reality is there every day. But at the same time, you can’t just give up and wait for things to get better. You have to try to move on with your life, and that’s what people do.’
Her experiences as an auditor in one of the world’s most turbulent economies would be food for thought for those struggling with currency fluctuations in the western hemisphere. ‘So, the pound dropped by 15%? Imagine your countries currency being de-valued 11 times over. And you still have to run your business, to pay your staff. That’s what business people in Syria contend with.’
Dima believes experiences like these should make young people from the Middle East more confident in their abilities. ‘We tend to think what we have been through is normal, but in fact our experiences are unique,’ she said. ‘If I can work as an auditor in Syria during the war, I can work anywhere. Faith in your abilities is really important, and I think more young people would be willing to reach higher if only they knew what was possible.’
Dima gained a full scholarship to study her MBA, and moved to the UK in 2016.