Majd Soufan, Class of 2017
What are your best memories about being born and raised in Syria?
Being raised in a family-based society. So I had this strong bond with all my brothers, cousins, uncles, etc.
What do you miss the most?
What about Syrian culture makes you most proud?
What makes me feel proud and honored as a Syrian is our revolutionary history, regularly defending and fighting against every invader, and the steadfastness of the Syrian nation in this crisis.
Why did you choose to come to the US to study?
The US has one of the best educational systems in the world. Plus, the US was one of the first countries that offered aid to the Syrian students.
What challenges did you face while traveling here?
The journey was not a bed of roses. The process of issuing an F1 visa for a Syrian student is always complicated. I had to travel to Lebanon to do my interview because the US embassy was closed in Syria, so I had to face the Lebanon border issue. The distance from Damascus to Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, is about 51 miles. However, it takes from 4 to 6 hours to get there because the border is always massively crowded and the Lebanese government assigns 5 to 8 people only to issue a primitive kind of visa to that big crowd every day. The morning of the interview, I entered the embassy with my twin brother and 86 people. After 5 hours of waiting and watching 80 of these people receiving their denial for no reasonable excuse, fear got the best of me. However, with the courage of my brother, we were able to pass that horrifying test and complete the most suspenseful part of our journey.
What were your preconceived notions about Americans before you came here and how have they changed?
Honestly, I thought they would be a little bit aggressive with me due to my nationality and religion. However, when I got to Evansville, I found the opposite. People were so welcoming and kind and they were ready to give you everything with no expectation for any kind of payback.
How does it feel to be a Syrian student at UE in 2016?
I feel lucky and successful at the same time; the process of obtaining admission and a scholarship requires a lot of studying, especially since it was a different educational system than the one I had in my school. Plus, the evaluation process was very competitive. So acquiring this scholarship among all these applicants included some kind of luck.
What are the scariest, greatest, and most difficult things about living in the U.S.?
Like every place you go, there are always positive and negative sides. The people in Evansville were so welcoming and friendly. I did not experience any kind of racism or hate by anyone on or off campus. The negative side about Evansville that it is not supported with a reliable public transportation system. People here usually have cars, but international student do not come with their cars!
The scariest thing I can think of is living in a city where you don’t know anyone, and finding a job in such a city. You would not have any kind of support. You would have to rely on yourself. Plus, you could get into some real problems that you would never face in your country. So you are probably unprepared. On the other hand, the US is kind of the land of dreams. Everything is possible with hard work. All my dream jobs exist here in the US. So I have all these opportunities in front of me, and I just have to grab them.
Can you tell us about a life changing experience that happened to you in Syria?
I can remember one story that happened in Damascus, right in the central square in 2013. I was walking with my brother from school toward my grandma’s house, when a rocket missile hit the central building that was 200 ft. away from us. People start screaming. My brother and I hid under the cars for a little bit and ran because it is very common for another missile to target the same place. However, I got a glimpse of what happened and I saw the shocking image of children suffering and mothers crying. It was a shocking and a shameful point in my life, because I was able to run and help these people and at the same time I was scared of getting killed. I believe these kinds of experiences are difficult to deal with, but they are the ones that fill you with hope. I am very lucky to be alive now, but I believe that I did not die on that day for a reason. People over there need help. The fact that I am living here in Evansville and people in Syria are suffering motivates me to work hard and graduate so I can help them in any possible way.
Does your family still live in Syria? If they could speak in this forum, what would they say to us?
My family is still living in Damascus, Syria. They motivate me every day to keep pursuing my college career and achieve the dreams I have chosen for my life.
What words come to mind when you think about Syria’s civil war?
Two words: Suffering and hope. The amount of suffering people are facing there cannot be imagined. We all saw what is currently happening in Madaya. People and children have not had a meal for months. The price of a bag of rice is more than $250. Nobody can afford such a price in that poor village. A lot of stories I heard and things I have experienced myself in Syria do not happen in any other country. On the other hand, I believe in God and I believe in hope. Hope comes with problems. So we only have to hope, pray, and work as hard as we can to offer the help for the people who are suffering in Syria.