Rawan Alzubaidi: Six Countries, One Person

Rawan is a recipient of the 2018-2019 MALA Scholarship Program. In accordance with MALA’s mission, this program awards scholarships to individuals demonstrate ambition, integrity, and leadership through the art of storytelling. To learn more about MALA’s Scholarship opportunities, click here.

It was dark inside and outside, the electricity used to go at least 5 hours a day and sometimes even more in Syria. I was sitting with my dad in the balcony; My dad started talking about Turkey with me. The war in Syria wasn’t that bad; we used to hear bombing and gunshots, see smoke and lights in the sky, some days were worse than others. He told me that we were moving in couple months; he didn’t want me to grow up, thinking that not feeling safe is normal, he didn’t want me to become accustomed of this lifestyle. I think he was right because this is how I started to think. This wasn’t the first nor the last time I had this kind of conversation with my dad, the contrast in each time was the reason of us moving.

People always assume that I am from a different country, because of my foreign name, my accent and the scarf on my head. When they ask me where am I from, I would give them the short answer; I am from Iraq. But what I think my answer really should be; I am from Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Malaysia, Turkey and the United State. Growing up I moved a lot, and I loved every country I lived in. I was born in Iraq and moved when I was three years old because of the war; and lived five years in Egypt, one year Malaysia, four years in Syria, three years in Turkey, and I have been living in the U.S. for almost three years now.

When I went to Turkey, they made me repeat sixth grade again because the school already started and I didn’t speak Turkish. In my first year, I was good at math, because the numbers are the same, and in other subjects I used to translate every single word and try to memorize them. After a couple of months, I understood most of the words, but I was shy and insecure that I would say something wrong. I had to be encouraged to talk, so in the new school year I joined a basketball and a soccer team, I had more opportunities to talk and learn new words. We got first place in soccer without playing any games, since we were the only girl soccer team in the city. Being part of something made me feel like I belonged again. I met Sevval at school, she helped me with Turkish and I helped her with English; she wanted to learn English so she would watch the new season from “Prison Break” without waiting for Turkish translation. My Turkish became so good, I founded a summer job as an interpreter in a real estate office, and everything was even better than I thought it would be.

We had applied to refuge to the U.S. when we first moved to Turkey. We were accepted after two years. I was sad. I didn’t want to move . But again I knew traveling meant new life experience. I moved to the U.S. in freshman year. I didn’t know what to expect, I was scared about not being accepted or feeling isolated from the American society. I was wondering if the American high schools were like “High School Musical” or “Mean Girls”, thankfully high school was nothing like either. I did speak English, but not perfectly. However, I didn’t give myself the excuse to do less than other in school. I actually thought that I should do even better because I was given such great opportunities. I skipped this whole insecure thing about my language because I knew it would get me nowhere. I used the same method I used in Turkey; got involved as much as I could, I joined different clubs in school, created Muslim student Association and joined the lacrosse team, made friends, didn’t care about people’s judgment and learned to enjoy both the hardships and the beauties of the new experiences.

I learned simplicity in Iraq and Egypt, become aware of the worth of safety in Syria, experienced culture differences in Malaysia, learned a new language in Turkey and was introduced to different opinions in the U.S. At first I struggled with finding my identity, fitting and belonging to somewhere. I found my identity, I actually found six of them, and throughout my life, as I have new experiences, I expect I will find more.