To be human is to be an undeniable combination of two lives or halves. We are born from the collision of two pre-existing beings whose languages brought them together. My whole life, I have questioned the meaning behind my two halves. For some reason, they felt so different from each other that it’s hard to label myself. To put it in simple terms, I am an Arab-American. My father is Lebanese and my mother is a second-generation American from a small town in the midwest. I was born the youngest of 5 children in Lebanon and spent the first 13 years of my life in the United Arab Emirates. I grew up speaking Arabic and English and living in a country that I was not from. There, attending an international school, I was never different. I was a bilingual expatriate, surrounded by students who were in the same position. I was just like everybody else because nobody shared my background and nobody shared anyone’s background. My difference made me similar, and there was a certain comfort that came with that.
In 2015, before the start of Freshman year, my family moved to a suburb in the midwest. I not only moved to the other side of the world, but I moved from a small international school to a conservative public high school with over 3,000 students. At a new school and in a new place, it was easy to see that being different from everybody was not a good thing anymore. From the way that I dressed to the way I spoke, it was clear that I was no longer like everybody else. This was my first vivid experience of the outside, unwelcome because I was not similar enough to those around me and I didn’t fit the standards of American high schoolers. I began to struggle with depression and social anxiety in a completely new environment to which I didn’t feel that I belonged. I never opened up to anyone because I couldn’t find opportunities to share what I had to say. The toll that this can take on a person is something that I greatly underestimated. I spent so much of my time thinking about what was wrong with myself that causes my peers to act as if I have nothing in common with them. My self-esteem was reduced to the point where I was reflecting on what I need to change about myself to appeal to them. I told myself that if all of the high school students seemed to conform to each other, why shouldn’t I?
After some time, I realized that I had to adapt for my best chances of surviving high school in America. I made adjustments to the way I spoke and acquired a typical midwestern accent. My whole mannerism shifted into a place where I would no longer have discernible differences from those around me. I had gotten rid of the Arabic inflection in my speech and wanted nothing to do with the culture, language, or my past. I was ready to blend in, after seeing that doing so would improve my high school experience tenfold. I began making new friends when I felt more similar to my peers, but it felt that there were always certain things that couldn’t be translated. There were feelings or thoughts that I couldn’t explain without Arabic or without someone who knew what I had experienced. There was a huge disconnect between the person that I was trying to be and the way I felt inside. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t feel right, but I had been suppressing an entire half of who I am. It was difficult to realize, but I had to learn that there is so much more to life than fitting in. It’s easy to lose yourself in a crowd and I was having a real identity crisis with questions of who I was and who I wanted to be. I was so accustomed to seeking the validation of others and equating my self worth to how many people liked me. I am two sides of a coin, and that’s okay.
I had to learn that my geographical and cultural past is something of value. I could share where I had been, what I had learned, and most importantly, what I personally had to contribute to my community. I enjoy spending my time showing others that the community which I am a part of cares about them, where they come from, and what they have been through. I would like to think that I came out of this experience a better person, with a strong belief in self-acceptance and inclusion, and using each privilege to do good for those around me and being a good person to those who may need it.
I envisioned my audience to be anybody who has felt like a misfit or felt like there is nobody who understands the way they feel. My story involves literacy and conformity, and I feel like these are things that really impact everyone in some way. Language and culture are a significant part of our lives, and this idea that our differences are barriers is completely false. We have so much in common with each other without even knowing it and without even saying it. I tried to engage with my audience in the narrative by including the lessons I’ve learned. It took me a while to actually see the importance of identity. In this world, it’s hard to be okay with yourself the way you are, but we have to see past that doubt and self-hatred to realize our own worth.