Libyan student in Chicago risks losing funding

March 22, 2011 5:18:17 PM PDT
The conflict in Libya has many Libyan students here in Chicago worried about their future. Funding for their educations that was being provided by the Libyan government may be cut off.

There are thousands of students on Libyan scholarships studying in the U.S., Canada, and countries in Europe. It's estimated that hundreds are in Chicago. And now, the future doctors, engineers, and educators find themselves stuck.

For Libyan student Nizar Senussi, it's hard to hit the books.

"I spend many nights awake all the way until dawn. Many videos just break me down to tears," Senussi said.

Senussi graduated from medical school in Libya and is now in Chicago studying for exams to continue his training in the U.S.

Weeks ago when his homeland erupted in violence, the Libyan government, which was paying his tuition and expenses, ordered him and other students to participate in pro-Gadhafi rallies in the U.S.

"I was infuriated. And what I did was, it had the exact opposite effect. Instead of wanting to do it, I wanted to do the exact opposite because it was so predictable," said Senussi.

Senussi was then told by email that his scholarship was in jeopardy. Without work visas, he and other students can't earn money and returning home is out of the question.

"You can't even land at the airport. I believe the airports are shut down now, but a few weeks ago they were open, and people coming in from England and the United States were picked up immediately and haven't been heard of yet," Senussi said.

The Canadian government has stepped in to help Libyan students in that country, promising to free up Ghadafi's frozen assets in Canada to keep funding the scholarships. But that policy doesn't extend to students in America.

"I think these students and what they're doing here in terms of getting degrees and returning home to help their country is crucial to the future of Libya. I think it would be a great initiative for the U.S. government to assist in the funding for these students," said Ahmed Rehab Council on American Islamic Relations.

"I'm embarrassed to talk about the money. I mean, people are dying in Libya. But then again, we see ourselves as the future of Libya. When Libya gets liberated, and we become a democratic country, people like us -- doctors, lawyers, engineers -- we have to go back and rebuild it," said Senussi.

Fortunately for some students, their tuition and housing were prepaid, so they still have some time before bills come due. But the longer the crisis lasts, the more uncertainty.

Some colleges and universities say they're also waiting to take their cue from the U.S. government.