9th grader at Thomas Jefferson

Where are you from?

I was born in Iraq but I grew up in Syria. 

What was it like growing up? 

Life in Syria was good. You have freedom there, unlike Iraq. There were rules you had to follow, like women have to wear hijab or else you get in trouble. They can’t go outside by themselves always with a man and they have to cover their bodies. I was always willing to break the rules I can’t always control myself. 

What brought you to Cleveland?

I came to Cleveland as a refugee with my family. I’ve been here a 1.5 years. 

What were your first thoughts about coming to America? Did those change?

I didn’t think it would be like this. I watched a lot of movies so I thought it would be like that, but when I got here it wasn’t. It’s cool but it’s not like the movies. I saw snow for the first time, I always went to school there but school here is different. There are no lights, and the schools are really small.  

What challenges did you face as an immigrant transitioning here? 

English was hard for me so I was really shy. So once you improved your English. I started asking a lot of questions so I could learn words. The houses, the cars, the traffic everything is different here. People back home don’t follow rules when driving. 

What traditions or customs do you continue to practice?

At home we speak in Arabic, but I like to meet people who speak English and Spanish. In summer I lived with an American woman and she really helped me with my English. We still cook and eat Arabic food and we practice our religion. We still observe our religious holidays. 

How have Clevelanders made you feel welcomed?

The teachers here make me feel welcome. 

What do you love about Cleveland?

I love the people here. Most people here are helpful. The weather, the streets I just love it here. 

What’s your favorite thing to do in Cleveland? 

I like to play soccer and I like to act, sing, and dance. 

Why is it important to welcome immigrants and refugees?

People want to start a new life, they want to start working and make money. 

Why is it important to travel abroad?

Because you can see how countries are different, what the rules are. You can see how things are different and how we are the same.