Dr Marwa Biala is Somerville’s inaugural Sanctuary Scholar, having joined us from her native Tripoli in 2020 to read for an MSt in Radiation Biology. A year after graduating, she came back to the UK to sit the PLAB exam that qualifies overseas doctors to practise in the UK. In between revising and sitting her exams, she paid Somerville a flying visit to meet up with some old friends and share her thoughts on Somerville and her scholarship.

You were Somerville’s first ever Sanctuary Scholar. Can you tell us what that was like?
I feel very fortunate to be a Somervillian. Everyone was so thoughtful, not only in supporting me on my journey to Oxford, but in looking after me once I arrived. I truly couldn’t have asked for a better college or staff. Everything in College was so impressive, from the interesting events for students to the very high educational standards, But, for me, the most important thing was the College’s sanctuary work. I myself have seen how they care about the humanitarian side of students in need from around the world and how persistently they do their best to provide educational opportunities to people whose circumstances otherwise would never allow them to come here.

At times, it felt as if I was in a dream or in a movie. Before I came here, the thought of going to Oxford, or any top university for that matter, never crossed my mind.

Dr MARWA BIALA

Who or what inspired you most during your time at Somerville?
I met a lot of great people at Somerville. I consider the Principal Jan Royal to be a great role model of what women can achieve in our world. She is hardworking, passionate and doing all she can to make Somerville a better place and deliver her message as it should be. Somerville itself also has a special place in my heart because it started as a women’s only college and has been such an influential supporter of women’s rights and education ever since.

How did you find being part of the Somerville community?
At times, it felt as if I was in a dream or in a movie. Before I came here, the thought of going to Oxford, or any top university for that matter, never crossed my mind. I didn’t think such things happened to people like me, who have gone through very difficult times in their country. The experience of being a Somervillian student and alumna has made me grow both as a doctor and a human. I gained a lot of confidence and expanded my network, and I think it made me believe more in myself – that if I work hard enough, good things will happen.

Can you tell us what you have been doing since graduating and how things are in Tripoli?
After I graduated from Somerville, I went back to Libya to work as a doctor and be with the rest of my family. This was very difficult, because the situation in Tripoli isn’t stable. We still have street fights between militias at times and the electricity is still getting cut off for long hours, often for political reasons, which is so difficult both for daily life and as a doctor – especially in these very high temperatures we’ve been having.

What are your hopes and plans for the future?
For my country, I hope for peace and a better quality of life for my fellow Libyans, as they have already suffered a lot. For myself, my ambition is to travel to the UK and someday work as a doctor there, having a good clinical career and helping people who need me.

Further reading?

Spotlight on Somerville 4: Defending Ukraine’s Universities, Protecting the Pound and More

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28 September 2022
Spotlight on Somerville 4: Defending Ukraine’s Universities, Protecting the Pound and More

Joyce Reynolds

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23 September 2022
Joyce Reynolds

The Long Read: An Interview with Professor Iyiola Solanke

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22 September 2022
The Long Read: An Interview with Professor Iyiola Solanke