When I was eight my family moved from Jordan to the United States. Growing up in Jordan was tough. We lived there illegally because my father escaped to Jordan during the Iraqi War in the early 1990s. He had fled Saddam Hussain’s military and because of that was on a wanted list. I never traveled to Iraq. I grew up in Jordan, it was home for me.
There were many things about Jordan I loved, but for me, school was toxic. I used to get beaten by the teachers on a daily basis. Often I would try to run away from school. At lunch time, kids sat segregated: Syrians with Syrians, Iraqis with Iraqis. It was sad because we were kids and the teachers made us hate each other. They would talk about how one country was better than another country and how one history was worse than each other.
But when my dad told me we were leaving, my siblings and I only learned that we were going to the United States when we arrived at the airport in the Jordanian capital of Amman. We were all surprised because my dad had up until then told us we were going back to Iraq. My dad didn't want people knowing where we were going. He worried that people would wish us bad luck or envy us. If people thought we were moving to the United States they would think we were the richest in town, and my dad didn't want people trying to target us.
Leaving school was easy, but it was very tough leaving people and places that I grew up knowing, including all my childhood friends that I grew up with. We used to play soccer every day in the spring and summer after school. It was hard to leave the shawarma spot and the falafel stand across the street that always hooked us up with free hummus and falafel for breakfast every weekend. I had to leave behind my toys and my cousins. It wasn't easy at all.
When I came here to the United States, I found that the homes were built out of wood, and not like concrete like in Jordan. In Jordan everything was hard because my father’s job didn’t pay that well and he worked long days, sometimes 12 hours a day. He used to work as a construction worker and he used to carve pictures or designs the client wanted. But in the U.S. it was hard for him to find a job, because he didn’t speak English well.
But for me, the schools here were surprisingly much better than schools back home in Jordan. When I used to watch movies about the U.S I saw lots of images of schools with wood classes in farmland. But then I got here and there were lots of posters, and a big AC, lots of laptops to play on, and a big TV. It felt like a place where a kid could be a kid.
When I first came to the U.S., making friends was hard because others couldn't understand what I was saying and I couldn't understand what they were trying to say. But over time I started to gain more confidence and started learning more and more English. Here my friends came from all over the world from Asia to Africa to South America. In Jordan I used to see animals and sometimes human waste in the halls of the school. But here the buildings were super clean. I didn’t feel dirty being in school anymore. In Jordan, teachers would mentally and physically abuse you, they would make fun of you in front of the whole class for simple mistakes, they would beat you with a wooden stick or a garden hose if you came late. But here teachers took time to help students that were struggling. The teachers here were like angels. I felt safe and comfortable in school for the first time.