As told to: Luke Shermetaro and Jared Thompke
I think everyone has their own unique experience in facing college. My experience revolved around finding what I wanted to do with my life. A lot of people go into college thinking they want to do or be a certain thing and they end up changing their mind which is great.
Me, I started college knowing I wanted to be a helpful piece of the puzzle. What I mean by that is that I wanted to help solve problems in society—but I wasn’t sure what was the best way I could do that.
So I guess I’ll start from the beginning.
My parents are native Syrians, but I was born when they were in the US, so I have my citizenship here. They don’t, which means they have to take the time to get a visa if they ever want to travel here to visit. It’s not too difficult a process, but I like to make fun of them for it. Then they say, “We didn’t raise you to make fun of us, son…”
They didn’t stay in the US very long. I actually grew up in Saudi Arabia. My father is a civil engineer, and Saudi Arabia is doing a lot of development right now. They also don’t have a very high tax rate, and so the job my dad got there was really well paid. That’s why we ended up staying in Saudi Arabia for my childhood. Well, the school year in Saudi and summers in Syria, and sometimes trips to Lebanon as well. I don’t know if you know this, but nobody moves to Saudi Arabia permanently. It’s always way too hot and the sandstorms. . .when those happen, you can’t do anything but go inside. The sky turns orange, and there’s just this bag wall of sand.
Anyway, I attended a special school there, it was K-12, for immigrants or students who had other nationalities. My class sizes were small and my graduating class was only 43 people. But we were extremely diverse with over 20 different nationalities, counting dual citizenship, so I find it funny when people in the US say colleges are so diverse.
The school’s goal was to educate you enough so that you could go back to your country of birth for college, and so the coursework was extremely difficult, just a lot more rigorous than the public schools here in the United States. And it wasn’t all work all the time. I developed a strong love for music there because I had this one teacher who would bring in her guitar to the class, and I got really into it and sort of taught myself how to play classical guitar, which became very important to me.
So I got good grades, I graduated from this high school, and I came back to the United States to attend Michigan State University. My English was great and I ended up making friends in my dorm—we connected through music, which was really cool—but I had some real trouble figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. One thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to do something science based. Ever since I was a kid I really liked math, biology, and chemistry.
At first I thought that I might want to be a doctor. You get to help people, you get the science, and, of course, the pay is great. But then I started looking into it more and I quickly realized that it wasn’t for me. Doctors have to go to school for four years of undergrad, then four years of medical school, which is like taking 25 credits a semester in undergrad, and then another four to eight years of residency. On top of the that, you would end up working 60-70 hour weeks.
I realized that if I were to pursue that path I wouldn’t have much time for anything else, and I want to be much more than just one thing. I want to be a musician, I want to be a family man, I want to do more than just my job. I realized that I’m someone who wants to do and be many different things.
So I realized that first plan wasn’t going to work out, but I still wanted to do something science based and something that had a strong benefit to society. I remember as a young kid playing with Legos and always loving figuring out how things work and what makes certain things tick. So I started looking into engineering and thought it’d be a really good fit for me. I mean the pay’s good, it’s science based, and you get to benefit society. On top of those, you always have a new a fascinating problem to solve. And as a mechanical engineer, I can work anywhere that has moving parts. Mechanical engineers help design almost everything. Any bins or trash cans near you were designed by mechanical engineers. Any tables, even your phone. Computer and electrical engineers do the inside, but mechanical engineers do the frame and the assembly. This fit me perfectly because it allowed me to be myself in the way that I could be many different things.
One thing I love about MSU is that you don’t need to be a certain type of person to love it here. You know what I mean? There are just so many people and so many things you can do. You can always find your group. And you can always find a way to be yourself, your whole self, and make a contribution to that greater group at the same time.
This story originally appeared in Facing College: Diverse Student Voices, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.