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Hanan Alnassar’s Story

Facing College: Immigrant & International Students’ Stories from Mott Community College (Flint, MI)

Hanan-35 Hickok

Hanan Alnassar’s Story

As retold by Mary Rily-Walravin

My story is not like my fellow peers’ stories. My story began long before I even thought about college. When I was 11 years old, my dad came home from work, announced that my sister had got a scholarship from the Saudi government and would attend school in the Netherlands. One of the conditions of this scholarship, was that my sister had to have a male accompany her so my father accompanied her.

Upon their return, my family and I left everything behind and created a new life in The Netherlands. My parents let us know that while we were living in the Netherlands, we would be attending an international school. This came as an immense shock, not only to myself and my siblings, but to my extended family also. Although we had previously traveled and took vacations in foreign countries, I had never considered living in any of them.

At the time, I was too young to realize it, but my parents sacrificed a lot to insure we obtained the best education they could give us. My mother not only lived very far from our extended family, but also was taking care of myself and six siblings alone, while my father was working. Even with the numerous challenges she faced, we never heard her complain about any of the tasks needed to care for seven children.  She would help us with our school work, and take anything else that was needed to prepare for the next day. Now that I have grown, when I look back on my experiences, I am very thankful for the sacrifices my parents made.  

When I first began at the International School, I could not understand what the teachers where saying, that lead to not understanding the lessons they were teaching. The stress I experienced in that first year was monumental, not only because of the language barrier, but also there were classes I was required to participate in that where not offered in my previous school. I was a shy child and had never experienced classes like drama and music. I was not accustomed to standing up in front and having to perform in front of my peers.

Initially, I would cry daily and tell my dad, that he was going to ruin my future and I was not going to do well in my education. I could tell he felt bad, but I also knew that my dad was not going to move us back home. At that point, I decided it would be in my best interest to study hard and do my best. As a result of my hard work, by the end of the first year I could speak a small amount of English and Dutch. The subsequent year, my understanding of the two languages improved; now I can fluently speak Arabic, English, and Dutch.

I was in the Netherlands for a total of seven years. I finished my secondary education and applied to universities in the Netherlands. I was accepted to a university, but I ended up having issues with my visa expiring. In order to have the opportunity to continue my education in the Netherlands, I would need to return to Saudi Arabia for three months. After the three months, I would be able to return to the Netherlands, to address my visa issues. I felt that it would be a waste of time, spending three months in Saudi Arabia not able to work on getting closer to my goals. I then made the decision to keep moving forward and I started submitting applications to universities in the U.S.

I decided to study an extra year in the Netherlands since I was done with school a year early. We then decided it would be the best if I attended a Saudi Arabian school located in Europe, along with studying for the English exam required to attend college in the U.S. I also attended a regular Dutch school while studying for my exams for the Saudi School which was located in Germany.  This was complicated, but I was able to reach my educational goals.

Although I was not thrilled with our initial move, I now realize how much my parents sacrificed for myself and my siblings. I have had multiple opportunities that I would not have had if we had remained in Saudi Arabia. For example, I have had the opportunity to obtain my driver’s license; in Saudi Arabia, only men are allowed to obtain a driver license. Because I was studying at an international school, I had the opportunity to travel around Europe every year and visited many places like Barcelona, Spain and London England. My dream since I was a child is to become a successful lawyer and after having a high quality of education in the Netherlands and in the United States, I can tell now that I see myself very close to achieving my dream.


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.

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