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
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!