Updated: Wednesday, 08 Sep 2010, 8:51 AM CDT
Published : Tuesday, 07 Sep 2010, 5:35 PM CDT
APPLETON - It will be the biggest incoming class ever at Lawrence University. Four hundred fifty-six freshmen, to be exact. That includes one young woman who survived incredible odds just to make it into the country, much less to the campus.
When we met 19-year-old Amal Abbas, she was focused on getting her new dorm room set up just right. After that, she said she would be heading down to sign up for her first semester of college classes.
Everything about her looks like she's a typical college freshman. The thing is, she's not.
"You might get killed at any minute," recalled Abbas. "I mean, bombs were everywhere."
Abbas is an Iraqi native. She was living in Baghdad when the U.S. invaded in 2003. She says her family lived in terror with bombs exploding all around them
After a year, her mother decided it was time for the family to leave. They fled to nearby Jordan, where they lived until 2008.
Eventually, they received refugee status and were allowed to come to the United States. That's when they met Thomas Robb. He's the director of a food pantry in Chicago.
Robb says he immediately saw something special in Abbas, so he helped her find a high school that could help fix her broken English.
"The credit goes to her. She had to work very, very hard," said Robb.
The bond between the families has remained strong since then. Robb and his wife helped Abbas move into her new dorm on Tuesday. Abbas calls him her family's guardian angel.
Abbas says college is another chapter in her new life. She even has her best friend from high school with her as her roommate.
"I'm going to be honest with you. After what had happened in Iraq, I don't miss it," said Abbas.
Abbas has a passion for life and learning. She's using her past as the motivation for her future.
Abbas is Lawrence University's first student born in Iraq. She is studying biology and plans to someday become a doctor.