When Jamal Doghramachi came to Wales from Baghdad in 2013, he described himself as an “alien” in a whole new world.
Unable to speak English, the Iraqi teenager had to get to grips with a new culture, new technology and a whole new city, all while staying in a hotel as his family looked for their new home.
But after nine hours of revision a day, the dedicated student has gone from recently doing worse than he hoped his AS levels to walking away with an A* and two As at A Level.
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Jamal, from Cyncoed, Cardiff, said: “I felt like an alien. It was a completely different world.
“Here there’s a different religion, different first language, but it’s [also] the way people interact, the technology. There’s a completely different education system.
“In my country I was a top student in my primary school but coming here I had to start from scratch.
“Being in the bottom again, some years I wanted to give up.
“People were telling me for my language barrier I was doing well but it wasn’t enough.”
First only able to count to 10 in English, Jamal began to pick up the language by watching YouTube videos after making the move to Wales to allow his mother Fadya to complete her PhD.
But he says he also had to look out for those trying to mislead him along the way.
The Cardiff High pupil said: “I just had to pick it up. I remember in the first summer holidays I had been watching a lot of English YouTube videos about gaming, that sort of thing.
“They were mainly visual based which helped me to pick up the words.
“I got hit with quite a lot of bullying for the first two years I was [in Cardiff] because I was very vulnerable, I wasn’t a very social kind of person.
“People would exploit that and make me say bad stuff because they knew I didn’t understand.”
After flourishing in his GCSEs, Jamal’s mental health began to suffer after doing worse than expected in his AS levels.
Unable to finish the exam papers on time, he walked away with B, C and D grades – a far cry from his results today.
The 18-year-old said: “The thing that made me give up initially was that I kept running out of time. I always had 25% extra time but it still wasn’t enough.
“Last year was the worst one but I was going through a bad mental state.”
“There were so many life stresses happening, I wasn’t sure if I could stay in the country or not, how long my visa was going to last for, the thought of going back to Iraq and having to do my final year of high school there.”
Determined to improve his grades, Jamal spent nine hours revising a day while fasting for Ramadan in the run up to his exams.
At the same time, his mother was also busy in the final year of her pharmacy PhD at Cardiff University.
Now, after an emotional results day, Jamal will follow in Fadya’s footsteps to study pharmacy at university in his new home city.
The teenager added: “I’m very thankful to my mum. I’m the type of person who doesn’t really know how to revise by myself so she had to revise with me constantly and suffer through it and also focus on her PhD and get that over with.
“It was my final year and her final year as well.”
This content was originally published here.