In the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, the insurgency wracking other parts of the country seems remote. In a region that has long attended to its own affairs, people are looking to the future. In the city of Irbil, university students are preparing for final exams. VOA's Margaret Besheer visited with some students at Salaheddin University, and brings us this report.
Far from the violence of Baghdad and other cities around the Iraqi capital, students in this mostly Kurdish city say they are hopeful about their futures.
At the girls-only dormitory, 22-year-old Sumaya says she believes she will have a brighter future than her parents, who were among thousands of Kurds who fled to Iran, Turkey and Syria under the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Sumaya was born and raised in Iran. Her family returned to Iraq in 1993, after the first Gulf War, when the United Nations established a no-fly zone over northern Iraq to protect the Iraqi Kurds, who were largely left to handle their own affairs. Sumaya says there has been a lot of change for the good.
"I see Kurdistan has great changes. They [Kurds] have come back to their country, and they use their money here and make buildings," she said.
She says people are also now free to move between cities, which they could not do when Saddam was in power.
In the cafeteria, Hawman is studying with classmates from his engineering course. This 22-year-old says politics do not interest him and his friends.
He says, "we do not talk about politics, we talk about friendship and our studies and our lives."
But they all express concern about the quality of their education and the ability to find jobs when they graduate. Many say they are likely to go abroad to complete their studies and work.
Many of the students here do not speak Arabic, the principal language in Iraq, because they were raised in Turkey or Iran.
Eighteen-year old Tola says the books they have at university are from the 1970s and are completely out of date.
Kwestan, a 25-year-old English major agrees the syllabus is out of date. She says, in her English courses they are studying the plays of 16th century English playwright William Shakespeare, and she thinks it would be more useful to read modern writers.
"So many teachers said that after Saddam Hussein finished they wanted to change the syllabus of the college," she said. "But it is unfortunate that until now there is no change and it is very boring for the students."
And some of the students say, despite the changes around them, they do not yet feel completely free.
Tola says life here is not free the way it is in the West, and he hopes some day it will be.