Shuruq Alshakhi‘s Story
As retold by Rachel Moffitt
My English Dictionary
Some may think that Saudi Arabia is nothing more than a wasteland, a desert where people ride camels from one harsh place to another, but they don’t know Saudi Arabia, my home. They must have never heard of our capital, Riyadh, which is a bustling city, with the 41-storey Kingdom Centre skyscraper, one of the fifty tallest buildings in the world. They must not have known that my friends and I loved to go to the ice skating rink during our time off, and most importantly, they’ve never seen my home, where I grew up with my two wonderful parents, my sister, and my brother. Synonyms: Family, Friends, Warm, Loving
I had been on airplanes a few times with my family on vacations, but my one-way trip to the United States was the most terrifying, because for the first time in my life, I was without my family . . . and there were plane troubles. I do not know which was more frightening. When I did finally reach America, it was raining, the clouds obscured the sun and dead worms littered the ground. That may seem ominous to some, but I love the rain, and I took that as a sign that this was where I was meant to be. Synonyms: Complications, Worried, Excited, Conflicted
In Saudi Arabia, learning English was never seen as important, so when I came to Michigan, I had to take some classes. I was in a room full of other people in the same position as me, who only spoke Arabic. But I was nervous. I had never been in a class with men before, and I had been so worried that they would make fun of me or laugh as I tried speaking such a foreign language, and I ended up failing my first time around. While learning English, I also learned that I couldn’t be afraid to make mistakes, because whether a boy or girl, we were all in the same boat. Synonyms: Co-ed, Male, Apprehensive, Hesitant
My older sister had come to Michigan to begin college, so that was where I went. It was as simple as that. She had told me all about her time here, and had painted an idea in my head of what I should expect. Sure, I would be far from my home, my parents, brother, and friends, but I had her. And it wasn’t like I was escaping Saudi Arabia because of deplorable conditions; it was only because here, in America, I could get a better education and there were more opportunities for me to succeed. Coming to the United States was the best way for me to reach my goal of becoming a professor. While it was difficult to leave most of my family behind, it was still an easy choice to make. After all, I already had a place to call home. Synonyms: Sister, Opportunities, Solid, Future
I had been getting around Flint from one public bus to another, and I had quickly come to the realization that if I wanted to get around more efficiently, I would need to get a car. I was prepared to take my test . . . but I forgot one lousy piece of paper. You see, in places like Detroit, there are great pockets of Arab communities, and so I’ve never felt blatantly discriminated against. My people were all around me. However, when I was trying to take my driver’s test, I had forgotten a form, an honest mistake. But the man in charge started yelling at me, and when I offered to go back and get it, he exploded. He had said things like how I might not be who I said I was, but who I “was” is someone hurt and confused. I couldn’t tell if his animosity was because of how I dressed with my hijab, how I talked, or because maybe he was simply having a bad day. Either way, I never retrieved the form, I never went back. Synonyms: Bus-line, Dumbfounded, Crushed
The average winter in Saudi Arabia is around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, so the winter in Flint was shocking, to say the least. Even so, that was the last thing on my mind. Finally, my scholarship had gone through, meaning that I was able to return home for a visit. It had been a long and lonely one and a half years before I was able to see my parents once again. Sure, I had my sister, but we had such different schedules that we don’t have that many opportunities to truly spend time with one another. And so, it was a relief to be able to go back home and be with my parents once again. I was elated to see the faces of my family once again. And when Donald Trump was elected President, and there were talks of a “Muslim ban,” I had been asked if I was scared to go back to the States. But why should I be afraid when I didn’t do anything wrong? And so, after what felt like too short a time, I once again left behind my parents. But at least they sent me off with good food. Synonyms: Depressed, Homesick, Ecstatic, Hungry.
This story originally appeared in Facing College: Immigrant & International Students’ Stories, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan.