Omar Nahhas, a top-ranking student, dreams of becoming an orthodontist. Credit: Pixabay
Omar Nahhas, a top-ranking student, dreams of becoming an orthodontist. Credit: Pixabay

Omar Nahhas, 19, topped the dentistry field in France’s highly competitive first year of common medical studies, or PACES, in June. In an interview with a regional daily in Lorrain, in eastern France, the young Syrian refugee expressed his gratitude to all the people who helped him along the way.

Omar Nahhas has an undisputed facility for languages. But the teenager is above all a model of discipline and hard work. When he arrived in France in 2016, Nahhas did not speak a word of French. Four years later, the young Syrian is a top-ranking dental student at the prestigious Académie de Nancy-Metz and plans to become an orthodontist.

In an interview with the regional daily Le Républicain Lorrain Nahhas did not want to discuss the reasons for his family’s departure from Syria, nor the details of his journey to France.

The teenager focused instead on his life after he arrived in his new country and the hurdles he’s had to overcome. Having to enroll for an education in French, an unfamiliar language for the boy, was one of the biggest challenges. But "three months later, I returned to ... high school, a year behind the other students," he says proudly.

Nahhas expressed gratitude for "the support and generosity of people who helped me to enter the Lycée Cormontaigne and to learn French," he told the Le Républicain Lorrain. The language classes were critical: "I was thrown into French schooling like a child, who can't swim, being tossed in a swimming pool," he said.

A stressful but rewarding academic year

But Nahhas rose up to the challenge. In 2019, he graduated from high school, earning a “Baccalauréat S” (a school leaving certificate with a science specialization, ed. note) – with honors. The young Syrian refugee then enrolled in the highly competitive first year of common medical studies (PACES), an exam that only around a third of students pass, often only on their second attempt.

At the end of the first semester in December, Nahhas ranked 106th out of 2,200 students, earning a spot in the dentistry specialty in the process. The Syrian teen admitted to losing weight “due to the stress" of the last academic year.

Nahhas plans to continue his studies, and if all goes well, in six years he will be an orthodontist, the profession of his dreams.