Forced to move from Iraq due to his family’s Christian faith, Marvin Hozi has thrived, overcoming numerous obstacles to earn back-to-back full-ride scholarships from George Fox and Stanford

The message was clear: Move out or die.

This wasn’t graffiti scrawled on a building in inner-city gang territory. It came in the form of a notice posted on Marvin Hozi’s parents’ house in an upscale neighborhood in Iraq. From “Your neighbors,” it read. His parents could not confirm who wrote it, but they believed it.

Hozi was 6 years old. He does not remember much of that time, but he knows his Iraqi-born Christian family was the minority, and the Muslim-majority country would no longer tolerate them. The family was on deadline.

New home. New culture. New language.

With their lives in danger, the United Nations granted the Hozi family refugee status and allowed their move to Jordan. They left their home within the week. Jordan was just the first stop. Next was New York, then California, and finally Hermiston, Oregon, where relatives lived at that time. With approximately one year and a birthday in nearly every location, Hozi was 10 when he, his parents and his younger brother settled in Eastern Oregon’s largest town, in a rocky and arid region of the Northwest that reminded them of home.

With the agility of childhood and the strength of his family supporting him, Hozi settled into each culture and community, discovering that his new country held vast diversity. “Very different communities, New York, Oregon and California,” Hozi says. “I had pretty significant experiences taken from all of them. In order to adapt, I had to interact with the community and just become involved in what they were doing.”

A minority in their home country, the refugee family remained a minority at each new stop. But Hozi never saw that as a handicap.

“It’s a pretty fun experience … taking all the experience from all the communities and having it used throughout your life,” he says. “It provides a broader knowledge of what’s going on around you. It’s really useful.”

When his family arrived in Hermiston, they spoke only Arabic. Hozi, then in the fifth grade, decided to change this, teaching himself English by watching hours upon hours of movies and television shows.

Perseverance, his parents say, is the strongest characteristic they have seen their son develop through their multiple moves. “He strives for knowledge and continuously works hard despite the hard challenges he faces every day,” says his father, Atheer.

In high school, Hozi discovered the language of computer science and quickly learned that this skill could help others. As a junior, he and his team won the Congressional App Challenge and a trip to Washington, D.C., for developing a “Touch and Talk” Chrome app, helping students with speech or dexterity issues. “I brought together a team in computer science, and we worked on this project that really contributed to my community,” he says. “That was a change that I loved to bring in my community.”

In 2018, Hozi graduated as a valedictorian with two full scholarship offers – from George Fox and Stanford. He saw no reason to choose between the two. Instead, he asked Stanford if they would apply his scholarship to a master’s program. Stanford agreed. Hozi’s goal is a doctorate in computer science, focusing on reverse engineering cyber security.

Marvin Hozi

Like Father, Like Son

Hozi believes anything is possible. His family escaped Iraq. They were able, with patience and perseverance, to immigrate to the U.S. He did not ask if he could learn English; he determined to learn it. He didn’t ask if he could attend Stanford University; he applied and got a full-ride scholarship.

Hozi’s tenacity and optimism find their roots in his father, a man who, like the biblical Joseph, had to lead his family to safety. Through four years of uprooting and resettling, Atheer held Psalm 9:9-10 like a banner before them: “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.”

“I have used this verse from the Bible since our departure from Iraq to encourage my family,” says the elder Hozi. “It perfectly describes our journey and is a verse that gives hope and encouragement to us every day.”

“That connection with faith has helped me historically push through my challenges by relying on God and that he has a plan for me,” Hozi says. “So I rely on my faith pretty extensively every day to help me get past challenges.”

Choosing Community

While Hozi’s friends and dormmates occasionally ask questions about his past – usually while playing ping-pong in the dorm lobby – his story, common in other parts of the world but not on the university campus, does not figure strongly in his day-to-day life. Yet Hozi credits his journey for developing his deep respect for community and his ability to face challenges.

“I like to think that since I’ve overcome such challenges, I’m now better adapted to face challenges, which I’m grateful for,” he says. “I’ve definitely experienced challenges at George Fox, and because of my background I haven’t thought about giving up and just pushed through the challenges.”

Having to face obstacles himself, Hozi has grown comfortable in the role of helping others overcome them, whether by standing up to a bully in middle school or by helping friends in high school who struggled with academics.

“I believe by helping the community, it’s a cycle,” he says. “You help the community and the community returns to you … they provide support. The community’s kind of your foundation, so it’s really an essential part of your life.”

Hozi’s favorite example of community is not about him. Several years ago, a teacher from a town near Hermiston was fighting cancer. When Hermiston’s basketball team played the team from that teacher’s school, both sides of the court hoisted banners and signs of encouragement. Hermiston then created fundraisers to support the teacher.

“So, my community ran donations for another city’s teacher,” he says. “I found that to be pretty astonishing, how they stood up and they were selfless, caring not for themselves but for another teacher from another city. That was pretty amazing to me. I learned the value of how communities interact, and I learned to admire that value and just not take it for granted.”

This conviction led Hozi to George Fox University, where he found the academic program he wanted and the community he needed. Here, being Iraqi and a refugee are, if anything, positive. “I love being different,” he says. “That gives me motivation to continue doing what I love, and it serves as a basis for just kind of being proud of what I do.”

Proud of his family’s courage and faith. Proud of his academic achievements. And proud of the community at George Fox University that continues to encourage him to believe anything is possible.