Basel Alhaj, Class of 2017
What are your best memories about being born and raised in Syria?
Tolerance among people from different religions, Syrian shows, free education, free health care, cheap and delicious food, everyone speaks Arabic, the education system supported the Arabic language so much.
What do you miss the most?
Family, teachers, neighbors, streets, food
What about Syrian culture makes you most proud?
It's a culture that is very productive, simple, and united---at least it was. It was a place to meet different religions and cultures, and Syrians are always proud that Damascus was the capital of the Omayyad state, one of the most powerful states in history.
Why did you chose to come to the US to study?
I have family here, plus I expected it to be the least racist society against Syrians because it already had a lot of diversity within it.
What challenges did you face while traveling here?
Language was the first barrier. And it was too much freedom for me to accept at first because I was always taught by my government to accept one opinion which is the opinion of the ruling political party.
What were your preconceived notions about Americans before you came here and how have they changed?
I always thought of America (because of what they taught us in school) as an imperialistic country which claims to respect human beings but actually rules by force and the rich are the ones in power. They also taught us that American freedom and democracy is a lie and it is a danger to our society.
How does it feel to be a Syrian student at UE in 2016?
Very special, challenging and scary.
Have you experienced any positive or negative feedback here on campus or in Evansville?
I found a lot of support from some of my professors and classmates. However, some others treat us with a weird look. I do not know if they just do not like people who are different from them or they are looking at us as incapable of making a difference in this world.
What are the scariest, greatest, and most difficult things about living in the U.S.?
Scariest: Racism and discrimination
Greatest: Freedom and respect of laws
Most difficult: Some people do not welcome us in their society
Can you tell us about a life changing experience that happened to you in the U.S.?
Getting a scholarship from UE changed my life.
Can you tell us about a life changing experience that happened to you in Syria?
Losing my house which is in an area now controlled by one of the most horrible terrorist groups in modern history. Feeling scared and feeling like I have no shelter for some time made me think it was over.
Does your family still live in Syria? If they could speak in this forum, what would they say to us?
Yes. My dad said just tell the American government to stop giving guns to people and to enforce that rule with other governments.
What words come to mind when you think about Syria’s civil war?
Unbelievable, shocking, disappointing, hate, crime, blood, destruction, armed people, bad news, explosions, tears, children, death, camps, hunger, ills….. etc.
In your opinion, what is the solution to the current political crisis and where do you see Syria ten years from now?
The solution is for the powerful countries to stop acting based on their own benefits but based on the benefit of the Syrian people. I see Syrian people are not Syrians anymore because they live in different places around the world. And some who are in Syria are not even Syrian.
Under what circumstances would you go back?
Peace and democracy
What else do you want us to know about Syria, and about you?
When refugees from other countries at war came to Syria, they were treated great and every Syrian family hosted and helped refugees, so Syrians do not deserve this treatment by others.