OAKLAND (KPIX ) — For many students, science classes can be a challenge. But for this week’s Students Rising Above scholar, science is his second favorite pastime next to soccer.

For the past few years, Mohamed Alghaithi has played for Soccer Without Borders, a non-profit serving Oakland and other cities across the U.S. and beyond.

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Alghaithi has been practicing his soccer skills at home during COVID-19. He’s an accomplished player that can kick equally well with both feet.

“I started beginning in the middle, because my coach didn’t know I was playing with right foot and also I can play with the left foot as well,” explained Alghaithi.

The sport is a passion for the 2021 Oakland International High School graduate, but also a way to relieve stress, make friends and practice the English language skills he learned after immigrating from Yemen.

The move also had an impact on Alghaithi’s education.

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“I came to here to the U.S. and they told me I have to redo 9th grade again. And I was already starting 10th grade back in Yemen,” recalled Alghaithi. “And here they were like, ‘You have to start 9th grade because of your English.’ It was frustrating!”

Despite his frustration, Alghaithi learned English quickly, though the extra years of coursework meant he would finish high school later than his peers. He graduated at age 20, but also earned high marks and showed an aptitude for science. His great attitude, strong work ethic and advanced science skills helped Alghaithi land an internship with UCSF at CHORI, the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute.

The opportunity has given Alghaithi a chance to use his STEM skills as he studies during summer break. It’s extra work he sees as a small tradeoff for the safety and opportunity his family has now in the U.S. Their immigration process took months to complete, after years of waiting for their paperwork to be approved.

“It was a big deal,” said Alghaithi of his family’s move. “If you had told me like two years before, like winning the lottery, like you are going to the U.S., I would have been like…I wouldn’t believe you.”

Now Alghaithi is headed to UC Davis in the fall after earning awards honoring his leadership skills at school and on the soccer field. For Alghaithi, playing for his home team — his family — is the position he sees as most important.

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“My family, we’re sticking together,” said Alghaithi. “Like, we talked about it many different times when we were back in Yemen. And whatever happens to one member of the family will be there to help.”