Where are you from?

I was born in  Al-Sharkia, Egypt, an agricultural state, which is located about 50 miles northeast of Cairo.  Both my parents were born and raised in Al-Sharkia, but father also lived much of his life in the Maadi neighborhood in Cairo after my grandparents separated. As a result, I spent much of pre-school years living between Cairo and Al-Sharkia where my father owned a farm. In the 1980s, my uncle was attending medical school in Toronto, Canada. At the time, my father was in college and would visit him during the summer. They would travel south of the border to the U.S., where my uncle eventually did his residency, and they both applied for green cards. By the 1990s, my family started our immigration process to the U.S. 

What was it like growing up?

I have memories of when I was about three years old and living in Egypt. I spent the majority of my time at my father’s farmhouse. My dad would survey the farm and supervise the workers and my mom would do things around the house. At the time, my parents weren’t concerned about living in a big city with better schools. However, I do recall spending a year in preschool, which I did not like very much. I spent most of my time playing with my brother around the farm and teasing our nanny. The last memory I have of living in Egypt at that age is when my parents tried to start teaching me a bit of English. This was in preparation for our move to Virginia, which would follow in a few months.

We moved to Fairfax county, which encompasses many of the suburbs south of Washington D.C. As I grew up, we ended up traveling between the U.S. and Egypt about once a year. The majority of my elementary school life was spent in the US. I attended middle school and parts of high school in Egypt because my parents didn’t want us to lose the Arabic language and understand how the farm works. We returned to the US when I was in 10th grade so that we could attend superior US high schools and colleges.

In the U.S., I grew up closely with cousins. We enjoyed partaking in western holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving and even Christmas, despite my Muslim background. We were introduced to a lot of Christian traditions through my cousins’ Catholic mother. When we moved back to Egypt, we had a very well defined schedule. We would spend the week in Cairo attending school and weekends on the farm. During the weekends, we would spend time with my dad and learn how he managed the farm and his employees. We learned a lot about the different crops that he grew. His main crops were mangos in the summer and tangerines during the winter.  He would later start growing bananas and oranges as well. 


What brought you to Cleveland?

I had never imagined myself living in Cleveland or anywhere outside of the D.C. area.  When I graduated college from Virginia Tech, however, I didn’t have a job lined up and started applying online. Eventually I came across an application to work at Hyland Software Inc. In the fall of 2014, I was hired as a software developer. 


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

When I first came to the US, I didn’t know what to think about it because I was so young. I was afraid of change and of moving to a new place. After spending my first few years living in the US, I knew I preferred living in the US more than living in Egypt. I still enjoy going back to Egypt, but I consider my permanent residence to be in the states. 


What challenges did you face as an immigrant transitioning here?

The biggest challenge I faced was when I moved back to Egypt in my teenage years. My parents had decided that it would be beneficial to move back for a couple of years so that my brothers and I could relearn Arabic and understand more of the cultural heritage. At the time, we celebrated Easter and Christmas, but we had no understanding of the Muslim holidays.  

Trying to relearn Arabic was very difficult when I moved back to Egypt. When I was three, Arabic was the only language I spoke. When my family came to America, I wouldn’t go back to Egypt for another year and a half.  In that time, I lost a lot my Arabic speaking ability and English became my primary language.

Another challenge was that changing schools meant that I lost all of my friends from elementary school in the US and had to make new friends in Egypt. Later, when I moved back to the US, I would attend high school with a lot of the friends I had in elementary school, but the friendship we had was lost. Often times, I didn’t feel like I fit in with either culture.


What is your occupation?

I am a software developer for Hyland Software, Inc.


How have other Clevelanders made you feel welcome?

When I first moved to Cleveland, I had a single friend in the area. He was a coworker I met in my training classes at work. He couldn’t make it to the first birthday I celebrated in Cleveland, so I went out on my own.  It was a Tuesday night, so I expected to eat dinner alone and go home because I didn’t know anyone else. Instead, I ended up meeting a group of great people, and they welcomed me into their group of friends. Later on, one of my friends would introduce me to my girlfriend. I have always felt welcomed at her family’s house.  


What traditions do you continue to practice?

I still speak in Arabic with my parents and celebrate Eid Al-Adha and Eid El-Fitr, which are the two main Muslim holidays. 


What do you love about Cleveland?

I like that Cleveland is a smaller metropolitan area.  Compared to D.C., life is much less hectic.  I don’t feel like I need to schedule an hour of my day to spend in rush-hour traffic. The people are also much nicer.  


Why is it so important to welcome immigrants and refugees?

It is important to welcome immigrants and refugees because of the value that they contribute to local communities, as well as the nation as a whole. I feel that there is a misconception that people come to the US to make money to send it back home. That is not necessarily the case. For my family, at least, my mom owns a daycare and has never sent dime back to Egypt. Additionally, much of the money that we make from the farm in Egypt is sent to the US. In this way, my family has had a positive impact on the economy of the US.  

Furthermore, each of my brothers and I have pursued STEM degrees in the US. The US has a deficit of people who are able to fill these occupations. Therefore, we are each taking on roles that may otherwise have gone empty.  


Why is it important to travel abroad?

It is important to get a sense of other cultures and to experience the way other people live. This is true for countries of all levels of development. Every culture has something unique and interesting to offer.