When she was younger, Sara Abdulla wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a physician. Then she took a global studies class her junior year of high school. “I fell in love with all the different cultures and how they’re related to our everyday lives,” she says. “But I realized I couldn’t give up science, because I’m a big nerd and I liked it too much.”
Fortunately, when she started looking at colleges, Abdulla found that Georgia State wouldn’t make her choose one over the other. Not only that, she earned the Presidential Scholarship, which meant a full scholarship to study them both under the auspices of the Honors College.
“I’m a very whimsical person, and I like basically every subject,” she says. “So I wanted a place that could provide opportunities to study all of them.”
Roots in the Middle East, and a Global Perspective
Abdulla’s interest in international affairs shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering how much they’ve affected her extended family — and not always for the better. Both sets of Abdulla’s grandparents are originally from Palestine, but were forced to leave in the late 1940s during the Arab-Israeli War. They settled in a Palestinian enclave in Kuwait, but were uprooted again when Iraq invaded the country in 1990. “War basically followed them throughout the Middle East,” she says.
Abdulla’s father came to the United States to finish his medical residency, and other than a few months spent in Jordan when she was very young, she’s spent all her life in south Georgia. “Warner Robins is a military town, so there’s some diversity, but nothing like here,” she says. “Not just when it comes to race but in political views, jobs, backgrounds, what people are interested in.”
Abdulla’s first exposure to Georgia State came when she visited in 10th grade for a debate competition, and she remembers being impressed by the location of campus, surrounded by the skyscrapers of downtown Atlanta. Those mental images stayed with her when she started looking for places to attend college. Knowing she wanted to go to school in a big city, Abdulla quickly zeroed in on Atlanta as an obvious starting point.
The Best of All Possible Worlds
The challenging part came when Abdulla had to find a school in the Atlanta area that would let her study what she wanted. Most schools she looked at didn’t offer the combination she was looking for, and the ones that did were expensive private universities.
At Georgia State, though, she discovered “an incredible neuroscience program,” one that appealed to her specific interests. “I read a lot of science books when I was a kid, and they were all about consciousness and decision-making and how that relates to the anatomy of the brain.” When she learned that the Honors College offered the freedom to study that as well as international affairs, she knew it was time to send in an application.
At that point, Abdulla was still only vaguely aware that the Presidential Scholarship existed, but when she got an e-mail about it, she decided it couldn’t hurt to apply for that, too. When she got the word last March that she’d won the scholarship, her college decision was made.
“When I was a junior in high school, one of my best friends who’s a couple years older than me was going here, and she was always singing its praises. So that influenced my decision,” Abdulla explains. “But when I actually came here to tour the campus, I realized Georgia State offered everything all the other colleges had to offer and then some. This place has everything anybody could want, so that’s why I chose it. And not having to pay for anything, of course, that was a big factor too.”
Workout for an Active Mind
So far, Abdulla says, Georgia State has delivered on its promises of the freedom and opportunity to explore. She’s enrolled in the Honors College, and with the assistantship that comes with the Presidential Scholarship, she’s hoping to get a job at one of the research laboratories in the Department of Psychology, studying depression and anxiety.
But she hasn’t limited her explorations to the classroom or lab. “I used to be a track runner, and I like being outside,” she says. “I like hiking, I like exploring. I like experimenting, whether it’s actual science experiments or testing to see how far I can go in certain things.”
And with only one semester in the books, there are still plenty of opportunities for Abdulla to explore around Atlanta — any one of which could be the start of her next big adventure. “There’s so much going on here that speaks to what I’m interested in,” she says. “The Capitol, the CDCs, all the non-governmental organizations . . . this is truly an international city, and for a person who’s really interested in different cultures, that’s awesome.”