Yousif Alshalah

Name: Yousif Alshalah
Major and current year at UCI: Economics, 4th year
Scholarship received: Social Sciences Outstanding Honors Thesis Award

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in many places. I was born in Iraq, but my family had to flee due to religious persecution and the overall dangers the country presented at the time. We lived in Egypt for three years while we applied to immigrate to the U.S. Finally winning the immigration lottery, we entered the U.S when I was 9 years old. I’ve lived in the U.S for almost 12 years now and consider it my home.

What drew you to study economics at UCI?

I always thought that I would major in history and become a lawyer or professor, but in high school I took an advanced placement economics class. I quickly fell in love with the subject. It was so enlightening to finally understand the market forces behind some of the most influential events in U.S. and world history. I also liked the mathematics involved and how I can use these equations to solve sensible real-world problems. When I got a 5/5 on the AP economics exam, I knew exactly what I would major in.

Growing up in Irvine, UCI has always been a primary target for me. My peers regarded UCI with prestige, so I did my own research into the School of Social Science’s economics program and found good results. After attaining an associate’s degree at Irvine Valley College, I transferred to UCI in the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are your plans after graduation in June?

I plan to start working in the private sector as an economist. I’ve hit the job market and I hope to find suitable work soon.

What activities have you been in during your time at UCI?

My financial situation has forced me to work for the majority of my academic career. I currently work as a student advisor at UCI’s Scholarship Opportunities Program. I was also working as a grammar and conversational tutor for the Program in Global Languages and Communication in UCI until recently, and I do freelance tutoring where time permits. I also joined the Fencing Club at UCI until it closed because of the Omicron wave.

Tell us about your economics honors research.

I used a regression model that suggests that the recent rise in housing prices is caused by market determinants, not speculation. I will be presenting my findings at the UROP Symposium on bubbles and why we do not have a housing bubble in the U.S. housing market.

Who has played an important role in your life thus far and why?

My dad has been instrumental in getting me this far in life. He has worked to provide me with everything I will need to succeed. His efforts to move us to the U.S and work more than three jobs to financially support the whole family in Irvine, one of the most expensive cities to live in, truly show how he has gone above and beyond for his family. He is not only a role model but also a lifelong teacher and I hope to repay his ambition with my own success.

What are the biggest challenges (if any) you have faced in getting to where you are today?

The two biggest challenges I have faced were getting over the initial culture shock upon immigrating to the U.S. and learning to speak English. The culture shock was strong when I entered the U.S. In Egypt, mean words and bullies were met with fists, not de-escalation. I got into a fight on my first day of school in the U.S. Having very limited English-speaking skills didn’t help the situation, but I gradually picked up on insults, like “terrorist.” I would consistently not listen to instructions and gave no one the time of day. I couldn’t understand any of the homework, so I just didn’t do it, and spent most of class time doodling instead of working. I slowly learned enough English to make friends, and that was the solution to my problems. My friends taught me new words, educated me on the ins and outs of the American lifestyle, and gave me tips on my grammar and pronunciation. I still learn new things from my friends, including the right pronunciation to words I’ve never heard aloud!

What other unique circumstances have helped form your life story until now?

My friends have told me that it is interesting that I have gone through multiple life-threatening events. For example, a car bomb exploded near our house in Iraq and my brother and I were attacked by rabid dogs in Egypt. Luckily, we escaped these situations unscathed, but the rabid dog incident in Egypt left me with an irrational fear of dogs of any kind and any size. I struggled with this trauma for many years, but I got over it eventually.

Honestly, I can’t think of any one experience or unique circumstance, I have just been supported by good, caring people my whole life. I had good friends that helped me learn new ideas, a good family that helped me develop into a mature individual, and good luck that has helped me secure work when I needed it the most. In a way, even though I’ve gone through many hardships, I feel that I really can’t complain.



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