Kenan Al Mahayni, Class of 2016
What are your best memories about being born and raised in Syria?
To me, many of my “best memories” of living in Syria are not unique, they are merely the things that I miss the most. Though my response to this question undoubtedly differs from someone who lives in Syria today, my most memorable times include walking the streets of Old Damascus, taking in the view from Qasyoun Mountain for hours, spending time with friends, learning how to use the transportation system and the mini-white buses, visiting my grandmother and aunts every Thursday, praying at the mosque on Fridays and planning our family meals to follow. I miss the sound of Azaan and the chants in Eid, and visiting friends afterwards. I think of these memories every day, and they are just a few of the many that cross my mind.
What do you miss the most?
Without a doubt I miss my family the most. Family is something that you don’t realize the true value of until they keep you away from it. I miss just staying at home with my family and sharing the same table with them, three times a day.
What about Syrian culture makes you most proud?
Being raised in a culture that has hundreds of years of history would make anyone proud.
Why did you choose to come to the US to study?
I honestly didn’t care much where I went, I just wanted a fresh start that could lead me to a better future.
What challenges did you face while traveling here?
Of course, getting a visa to come to the United States is always the biggest challenge. But the hardest part is the idea of being away from your home, your family, and your loved ones. That was by far my biggest challenge.
What were your preconceived notions about Americans before you came here and how have they changed?
Before coming to America, I only knew Americans through TV screens. I had never had an American friend before and didn’t have any personal experience with the culture. To be honest, the only culture shock that I can think of was the meal times. It was so different from what I was used to, but now I’ve adapted...I have to have at least two lunches to survive my day! I have a lot of American friends now, and I am so blessed to have some of them.
How does it feel to be a Syrian student at UE in 2016?
I love being a Syrian here in UE. I feel that all of us have a lot of potential here. We are all doing well academically, but we also give back to the campus and community.
Have you experienced any positive or negative feedback here on campus or in Evansville?
I have always received positive feedback from my friends. Some of my professors are supportive as well.
What are the scariest, greatest, and most difficult things about living in the U.S.?
The scariest thing right now is the media. It is so hard when everyone is pointing fingers at you, and all you can do is try to prove them wrong over and over again.
Can you tell us about a life changing experience that happened to you in the U.S.?
Coming to the United States was a life changing experience in itself. If I didn’t come here, I would still be thinking of ways to make a good future for myself, or ways to escape the military service.
Does your family still live in Syria? If they could speak in this forum, what would they say to us?
My entire family lives in Syria, except for my brother who is in Turkey. My family would probably say what any parents who were forced apart from their children would say; that they miss me, and they want me to make them proud.
In your opinion, what is the solution to the current political crisis and where do you see Syria ten years from now?
I think the solution for this crisis is for the United States and Russia, and all other foreign powers to back off of Syria. Both countries have different agendas, and it only makes it worse to keep these powers in Syria. I would love for Syria to be rebuilt in ten years, but unfortunately, I don’t see that happening in such a short time span.
Under what circumstances would you go back?
I would go back if they agreed to renew my passport…haha. Only for a visit, though.
What else do you want us to know about Syria, and about you?
Although we have a good life in the United States, we are always frightened by what’s going on in Syria. Not a moment goes by that I don’t pray to God to solve things in Syria, because it truly seems that a miracle is needed.