Tayssir AlTounsi, Class of 2017
What are your best memories about being born and raised in Syria?
To be honest, every second that I have lived in Syria is a great memory. I could say the food and the way my mother cooked it, as in Syria every meal is cooked differently based on the location where it is cooked. For example, in Aleppo they cook the same dish using different kind of spices.
Going to the mosque with my dad at a young age is a great memory, spending time with him as he took me everywhere he went since I am his only son. I had a great time visiting my dad’s office, watching him work and the way he dealt with his clients. My dad is a merchant, he trades cloth, fragrances, and hygiene products, and he also works with dermatologist’s products.
Family is an important and sacred topic in Syria, so every Friday we would meet with my dad’s side of the family and on Saturdays with my mom’s side of the family. My dad used to invite both his and my mom’s side of family to our house for cookouts and feasts.
I have seven aunts on my mom’s side and they all have kids my age, spending time and a lot of memories with those dear ones are actually the best memories. In the summer, we would go to the countryside and hang out all night, laughing and playing, I remember we would spend all night playing videogames; when the sunrise approached us we would play soccer, sweating to death, then we would go to the pool and swim all day.
I have a lot of great memories from my school. I started studying English in first grade at an international school; before the conflict in Syria, 70 percent of my teachers were from the West (USA, Europe, and the principal was Australian). So I was taught a lot about other cultures from all around the world, and all foreigners from outside the Middle East who came to Syria enrolled their kids in my school. My close friend, Luca Mazzanti, was an Italian whose mother worked at the Italian embassy. We used to hang out all the time and I used to help him with his special Arabic classes that were taught to foreigners.
I would do anything in this world just to relive a day in Syria when no conflict was happening.
What do you miss the most?
My two little sisters and my parents are doing everything they can to help me financially, and hopefully when I succeed I will repay them with double what they have given me, with all the love and support and also financially.
What about Syrian culture makes you most proud?
In Syria, we never look at someone from the religious aspect and unfortunately a big part of the conflict is because certain people were brainwashed by a third party from the outside; those brainwashed people started looking at others from the religious aspect, thus starting fights and disagreements.
I am proud of how the Syrian culture didn’t judge a person based on his religion or beliefs. One of my closest friends that I Skype with a lot with is a Christian who moved to Germany. He texts me at Eid and Ramadan wishing me a happy month or year and I do the same on Christmas and Easter, wishing him the same. I have been to a lot of churches in Syria with my Christian friends, I have been invited to their houses and have also invited them to my house.
Why did you chose to come to the US to study?
Studying in the US is a dream come true to any Syrian kid from all the good schools because, at this time, studying away from the Middle East could bring you great opportunities for the future. Thanks to the scholarship that was given to us Syrians, I chose the US and have worked hard to succeed. It’s not right to not try as hard as you can, since kids in Syria would do anything to have this opportunity.
What challenges did you face while traveling here?
Just being away from family. I have travelled alone before coming here; I went to Spain for three weeks to a soccer camp, so traveling wasn’t a big challenge.
What were your preconceived notions about Americans before you came here and how have they changed?
Unfortunately, our media is not better than other media as we have been told that Middle Easterners, especially Muslims, were not really appreciated by Americans. But on the contrary, here in the Evansville I haven’t been stereotyped at all, not even one incident since I came here in 2013. I have heard a lot of stories from other states, but actually in Evansville people do care about what’s happening in Syria and do want to know more; they also do help in any way they can
How does it feel to be a Syrian student at UE in 2016?
I always try to get involved as much as I can. I am also honored to have the name University of Evansville as where I will graduate; without the university I wouldn’t be here accomplishing what I have dreamt of. I feel proud.
Have you experienced any positive or negative feedback here on campus or in Evansville?
It’s a small and friendly campus and everyone respects one another. I feel it at home and always felt happy knowing that people care - always positive feedback.
What are the scariest, greatest, and most difficult things about living in the U.S.?
Scariest: Stereotypes that are heard around the media, such as a presidential candidate that wants to ban Muslims and Syrian refugees from entering the States; spending money unwisely because every cent counts; being distracted by all the cool technology; gaining weight with all the fast foods and snacks around.
Greatest: All the opportunities flying around; being able to make an impact on campus; being able to have actual rights, as in the Middle East you have to be cautious around certain places and individuals when expressing your opinion.
Can you tell us about a life changing experience that happened to you in the U.S.?
Not yet but hopefully soon.
Can you tell us about a life changing experience that happened to you in Syria?
Getting to study in the US with a strong scholarship at one if the best campuses around.
What words come to mind when you think about Syria’s civil war?
Hideous, unfair, blood, chaos, confusion, innocents, family, properties, no future, revolting,
hope, rebuilding, renovation, rights, kids, new start, hopefully will end
Under what circumstances would you go back?
To rebuild my country, to take all the experience and ideas that I learnt here back home, to rebuild it and help anyone that wasn’t able to have the opportunity that I had.