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Photo ofAhmed Abdulkarim

I was the only person who spoke some English. I was a freshman in high school, but I had to do adult paperwork, read the mail and help my family in public places. I usually argued with my parents about having  to help. I didn’t like my new life in the U.S., where I had to fill out paperwork. I just wanted to play video games and hang out with my friends. I became the source of leadership for my family. One time, when I was playing video games, I had to stop in the middle of a game to help my confused parents. My friends didn’t like it when I stopped in the middle of a game. We used to play as a team and if one person stopped, it would be hard for others to continue and win the game. I started to play less, so I did not waste my friends’ time. I also spent a lot of time taking care of my little brother. I felt that some childhood moments were stolen from me because of all the responsibility I had to take on.  One night, when my parents and I were sitting in the living room, we start- ed chatting. They brought out some of old pictures. My dad showed me a picture of him working. I noticed that he looked really young. When I asked him how old he was, he responded, “I was younger than you.” He talked about how he had to help his parents and quit school to work for his par- ents. I started to reflect on what I had done for my parents so far, and it did not even come close to what my dad had done for his family. At that point, my perception shifted dramatically. I felt like I was useless, because I was a person who didn’t think of anything besides playing video games.  One day, I went to the hospital with my parents. I saw them struggling to have a simple conversation with the receptionist at the hospital. At that time, I didn’t speak English fluently, so I kind of struggled too, but I got it figured out. “Thanks for that, my son,” my proud father said. At home, I saw tears in my mom’s eyes. She was the strongest woman in my life; I couldn’t have imagined seeing her weak. I started chatting with her and she explained to me how much she appreciated what I did for the family. She did a lot for me too, but when I did simple things, it meant the world to her. At this moment I realized how a small amount of help could make a big difference. My par- ents helped me all my life, but I felt as if I paid them back at that moment.  The engineering degree I want is from a university that is more than an hour away. So, I will have to give up my dream to become a petroleum engineer. I don’t want to leave my family behind because they will have a hard time without me. So, now I am changing my major and choosing a new one just to be close to my family. I won’t have to move or force my family to move with me. I realized that sacrifices must happen in life as you get older. I need to continue to think about my family more than myself. In my culture, families depend on each other. I gave up many of my dreams just to help my parents. I have realized that family is the most important thing and I have become a stronger person because of what I have done. 

© Ahmed Abdulkarim. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person’s teacher.