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P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans

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Q&A: MD Student Arash Fereydooni Looks Back At The Fellowship

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The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans provides two years of funding for outstanding graduate students who are immigrants and children of immigrants. After two years the Fellows join a lifelong community of past Fellows. We asked Arash Fereydooni, a 2015 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow, to look back at the first two years of the Fellowship and what they have meant to him. Arash and his family moved from Shiraz, Iran to the United States when he was a junior in high school. While still learning the language, Arash managed to lead his high school’s robotics team to second place in a world championship competition, patent two aerospace inventions and graduate at the top of his class. Arash graduated cum laude from Yale University in 2015 with a bachelor's degree and master's degree and honors in molecular, cell, and developmental biology. He is now a medical school student at Yale.
 

Why did you apply to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans?

As I was applying to medical school during my senior year of college, I had to turn my life story and aspirations into a narrative that would meet the word limit of applications or the time limit of interviews. After having submitted all my applications and attended all my interviews, I still felt the narrative did not capture the most substantial aspect of my life: my struggles and hopes as an immigrant. When I learned about the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship at the end of my application cycle, I knew this fellowship was the opportunity to express my immigrant story on paper, and possibly later through a bigger community. It was simply the acknowledgment that I was not just a medical school applicant, but also a first generation American student.

You’re now finishing up the second year of the program. Has the Fellowship been what you expected?

The fellowship is not what I had expected— it has been more. It has been a growing collection of laughter, cries, emotionally charged discussions of day-to-day obstacles, story sharing, academic relationships, and NGO collaborations. It has been an acknowledgment that I am a citizen of this country, and not just a visitor. It has been the morale-booster to express myself and give back to the country to which I owe so much.

What have the primary benefits of The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship been for you?

The Fellowship has connected me to an incredibly accomplished, yet unbelievably humble, group of individuals who have inspired me to be better and aim higher. In fact, some of these relationships have evolved to friendships and collaborations that have provided me with opportunities to take projects in which I am involved, like the Free Aleppo University Initiative, to a more impactful level. During a time when our government is mainly filled with culturally oblivious and socially shortsighted politicians, The Paul & Daisy Soros community has been a stronghold in which I have sought solace and guidance to navigate such a vital time in our country’s history.

Do you have any favorite memories from your Fellowship experience?

The month before our last fall conference in NYC, the fellows of Class of 2015 put their minds and efforts together to come up with a meaningful way to express our immense gratitude to Daisy Soros for all she had given us. Organized and led by the extraordinarily talented Tiffanie Hsu, we came up with our own version of the song “My Shot” from the Broadway hit “Hamilton,” which the Fellowship had taken us to at the previous year’s Fall Conference. Not only was the process of making the music video so memorable, but also put the most unforgettable smile on Mrs. Soros face.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying?

I am frequently asked by prospective applicants if it is “too much” or “inappropriate” to share details of the difficulties they faced as first-generation American— the stories of when the world was unfair to them, but they still persevered with their tenacity; when they did not deserve a second chance, but were given one; or when they failed, but struggled not to let their failures define them. The Paul & Daisy Soros community is blessed with such candid and unassuming people that one learns very early on despite all their accomplishments, even the most successful people have shortcomings and have fallen down at times in life. I would advise the applicants to be frank and open with their stories in essays and interviews.

Where are you with your graduate program now? What’s next?

I just finished the second year of medical school and will be completing the second half of my medical rotations over the next six months. After my clerkship, I hope to take a fully funded research year to delve deeper into my clinical project on ‘response assessment after image-guided liver cancer therapies’ and simultaneously pursue a masters in health sciences.

How do you plan to stay active with the Fellowship community in the years to come?

I am very fortunate to be living in New Haven and to be very close to NYC and Boston, where a great number of the Fellows live or work. Thanks to the PDSFA Steering Committee, it has been easy to organize get-togethers and catch up with the fellows. My class also has a very active texting/messaging group, which we use to share big life updates, virtually celebrate the milestones, and let each other know if we’re in town.