Farah Harb: Finally Home

Farah moved to the U.S. with her family as a child, and found opportunity accompanied by hardship. Her story speaks to the struggles that come with growing up in a new country, and how we can find solace, support, and friendship in the kindness of others.

This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps.

“I think my journey begins (or at least how I identify myself) when I was born in Egypt in 1999. My parents have grown up in Egypt their entire lives, but my dad got a job opportunity in Saudi Arabia so I never really got to live in Egypt; I don’t really consider it my home, even though all of my family is there. I moved to Saudi Arabia, but I only lived there for, like, three months so I don’t remember it that well–or at all, actually. Then I moved to Dubai with my family again, for my dad’s job, and we lived there for about nine years so that’s what I call my home, that’s kind of what raised me. But just as I was getting accustomed to the country and my friends and everything, we moved once again to America, which was probably our toughest and longest journey. We came here in 2009.

So when my dad first told us, I had a lot of mixed emotions. I was really, really excited because the America that you see on T.V. is, like, this amazing country where you can be your own person, and there are celebrities everywhere on the streets, and you can meet, like, Hannah Montana (who was my idol). I don’t know, that’s just what I epitomized, and that’s what I was so excited to be a part of because the media just portrays this really easy, and beautiful, and, like, super fun country and that’s exactly what I thought I was going to find when I first came here. My mom and my sister were a little more apprehensive about moving here, and I never really understood why. I was like, guys, it’s America…don’t you want to go? And that’s just kind of the mentality in that part of the world; I go back to visit my family in Egypt, and they’re like, ‘oh you live in America, your life is so amazing!’

I mean yeah, we have a lot of opportunities here that I don’t think I ever would have had there, but with that comes a lot of hardships. A week after we moved, we went to my elementary school to kind of get tested and see where I belonged, and I remember just feeling so uneasy there; I was holding my dad’s hand and that’s when it sunk in that it wasn’t just this amazing, easy, beautiful country. I remember the person who was interviewing me was speaking really, really fast English and at the time it was so foreign to me. I had learned English in school back in Dubai, but it wasn’t to the extent that I was being faced with at that moment. So I remember I tried to just fill in the gaps of what she was saying, and just fill in the paper and I remember at that moment I felt so inferior and so belittled because back in Dubai my teachers were always very encouraging, and I always felt like I was smart, and I was rewarded for everything, and then here I already felt like…I just wasn’t enough, I think.

I moved here in fourth grade and my first friend was named Alana Koegen. She introduced herself to me, and I remember at recess I would just sit by myself, and I wouldn’t play and then one time she just came to me, and she was like, “oh do you want to come play with me?” I was looking at the ground and I looked up, and I was like, are you asking me? I was so shocked, and then she was like, “Oh yeah, you!” and I was like “Oh, sure!” So I introduced myself and she was just so accepting, and so excited to meet someone. She was like, “You’re from Egypt and Dubai, like that’s amazing! Like, I’m from here, I’ve never been anywhere else but here!” That was the first time that I met someone at that time that was really accepting and kind of excited to know me. Then I met two of my best friends in fourth grade, that have been my best friends up until now, and I think that was part of what kind of helped me eventually be okay with who I am was that other people were so interested and so excited to meet me. They were ready to embrace the difference, but I wasn’t yet; but I think with them as a support system I was eventually able to get there.

Senior year I was kind of conflicted between doing something more science-related, like nursing, versus doing psychology and I think a lot of it was, like, the real world says you know, with nursing or a career in medicine, you’re guaranteed a position–there’s never going to be an excess of doctors or nurses. With psychology, it’s very competitive: you have to continue education past undergraduate years, and I kind of think I let that get into my head too much, like I was thinking more realistically, than about what I knew I wanted to do. It’s good to be logical and reasonable about life, but it’s also good to follow my passion. Last weekend, I went to visit my parents and they were like, “Oh how’s college going?” and I was explaining to them all of these things were learning in psychology and my dad was like, “I’ve never seen you smile and shine so brightly talking about something that you love.”

There was an event at the Chicago Hellenic Museum, and one of the interns that I was speaking with was actually speaking there and sharing her story as a Greek-American, and as a Muslim as well and she was just telling her story. That was the first real event of MALA’s that I went to, and I got to hear other panelists there sharing their stories as Muslims: as entrepreneurs, and just as these amazing people who have accomplished so much! I got to hear their stories and I got to hear my fellow intern’s story, and I just felt really excited to be there and to just be with people that are interested in learning about new cultures and embracing other people’s cultures, so that was my first event at MALA.”

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