An Eye Opening Journey

Coming to the United States was not my choice, however, it is not a regret.  It’s been the most challenging experience yet, the most empowering for me as I continue to learn and meet extraordinary people. Thinking back to the first time I arrived here, it felt like I had started from square one. I had to work hard to improve my knowledge of the language, cultures, and different ideas.  We were first brought to Kentucky, where we lived for a year and a half trying to fit in, until my family decided to move to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This small change expanded my view once again. When I arrived in Philadelphia I was amazed at the diversity that it held.  

When I came to America, Arabic was the only language I knew to speak, read, and write. The only words I knew in English were “How are you?” and “good”. English was taught in Syria but it was much different, with different words and pronunciations. I had to go through the difficulty of learning to communicate with my classmates and people around me. Even when I started to understand people talking to 

Doha and her schoolmates working on the making of ‘An Immigrant Alphabet’ while at Northeast High School, April 2017

me, my accent had kept me from speaking much. I would get replies like “can you repeat that?” or “sorry, I didn’t understand what you just said.” This problem continued until my second year in Philadelphia, where I made new friends who came from two different countries. To me, their English was a great motivation for me to improve my language, they began sharing their favorite books with me to help.

In seventh grade, reading had became a hobby of mine; the words I didn’t understand, I would translate. When I started at Northeast High school four years ago, my English was much better, allowing me to be the translator for my family. Whenever my parents went to the doctor or someone would call I would translate to help.  At Northeast  High, I was astonished at the many cultures present, most of which I did not know much about. The ESOL (English as a Second or Other Language) community was filled with students trying to assimilate into the new environment.  I started to volunteer to translate for the newly arrived students who spoke Arabic, as I didn’t want them to go through what I did when I first came to the United States.

During my sophomore year I had started to understand the importance of college especially since neither of my parents were able to attend school after their high school. My sister, who is a year older, and I weren’t sure of the college application process although we had lots of help from our counselors and teachers at the school. Pursuing higher education had became a primary goal for me, especially as it was also my parents’ dream. We had left our relatives and close friends for our future and education. I would constantly tell myself to be thankful for my education and to achieve the dream we came here for.

Being an immigrant has been challenging, although it was a big change in my life which made me more responsible, understanding, and open minded. As I became aware of all the diversity at Northeast High School, I didn’t see myself as an outsider. It is a place where people have similar understandings, especially if they shared experiences.  After setting aside my native language, Arabic, to develop a better understanding of the English language I am now enjoying reading books in both languages for improvement.

-Doha Salah, NEHS Alumnus, current freshman at the Community College of Philadelphia

Doha is one of the students who participated in ‘An Immigrant Alphabet’ —  a collaboration between artist Wendy Ewald and eighteen students at Northeast High School that will be on display in the Thomas Paine Plaza from September through December 2017. The students reflected on their journeys and ways of representing their stories through images and words. Expressed as an alphabet of 26 large banners installed around the exterior of the Municipal Services Building, their stories give insight into the complexities of immigration in America.  Click here to learn more about the project!

 

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Hug Parties & Birthday Reflections

Hello Al-Bustan Community!


This is Soumya Dhulekar, your Program Coordinator for Al-Bustan Camp 2017.

I just returned from a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains. On my birthday, I decided to hike with my dad and my brother to the top of a mountain called Charlies Bunion. When we got to the top, I stood on a cliff and witnessed one of the most amazing views I have ever seen. You could see all of the mountains before your vision panned into the great, booming, metropolis city of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, that we all know and love.

While we hung out on the cliff, I climbed over a huge rock that was jutting out from the cliff to get a better view. It took 30 seconds for my dad to yell at me in front of strangers to get down from the rock. I am 25 years old.

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I was, in my mind – understandably, very annoyed. Then I realized that my dad is super afraid of heights and had already pictured me dead from falling off a cliff, even though I was right in front of him. I also realized that my dad is 55, has a messed up knee, and still decided to take the ten-mile hike with me. I remembered how generous that was of him.


This is the kind of generosity I saw with all of the families involved in

Al-Bustan Camp 2017, and I cannot emphasize how happy I was to be a part of this experience. To the parents of these families — you are all raising extremely generous people. Your children weren’t just campers at Al-Bustan, they were artists, dreamers, interpreters, leaders, translators, and storytellers. It is clear that all of you would hike ten miles with your children, even if your knees get weak.

 

I will always remember playing the parkour version of Red Light Green Light, talking about what we want to be when we grow up (a rapper!), my long overdue fan base for my unnoticed basketball *skills, unsolicited updates about Star Wars, sharing sketchbook drawings, the girls of group Awraq who became my crew of assistants for our final celebration, and my all-time favorite conversation from camp:

 

Soumya: “Okay, we’re going to play Red Light Green Light.”

Seraj, Group Funun: Nope, change of plans. Hug party!


You are all so special, and I wish you all of the hug parties you could ever hope for. See you next year!


Love,

Soumya

*I can shoot free throws and dribble a ball one time through my legs.