Junior Aya Khalaf’s experience of moving to the U.S. from Baghdad, Iraq

Doing anything new in life can be very challenging. In 2008 my family
and I moved to America from Iraq. We had to move here because my mom
worked in the American Embassy in Iraq, and we started to get threats
and people started breaking into our house.
When we realized that it was too dangerous for us to stay in Iraq, we
decided to come here, which was a huge change. My mom was the only one
that spoke English. My dad and I knew nothing.
We got to Washington D.C. on Dec. 12, 2008. It was very hard coming
here because we had so much family back home, and we were all very
attached to each other. I didn’t and still don’t have any siblings,
but I had a lot of cousins that were very close to me.
When we got here we decided to live in Georgetown D.C., which couldn’t
be any more different than Iraq. Everything was so much safer and
everyone was way friendlier. In Iraq we couldn’t go out past 10p.m.
because they were afraid of bombings and there are obviously no rules
like that here.
The first year living here was definitely the hardest for me, because
I got made fun of a lot due to the language barrier. The biggest
change from Iraq to here for me was the school system.
In Iraq, schools didn’t have electricity 95 percent of the time and we
had no heat or AC. We had no cafeteria because we could go home for
lunch and come back. Schools back home also had a system where we had
a group of students go to school from 8am-12pm and a second group of
students go from 1:30pm-5pm, and we could alternate each week.
Coming to school here was definitely a change for the better and I’m
thankful for it every time I talk to my cousins back home. I’ve also
realized something else that is very different in the education
system: in Iraq we get 8 hours worth of homework each night.
We would have to memorize books at a time and write a long paper on
them, and this was only in the third grade, so when I complain about
how much homework I have, I remember school back home.
Back home the whole neighborhood was very close and everyone knew each
other and coming here, people are friendly but they aren’t going to be
your friend instantly.
As time went by, I got more accustomed to the culture here, and I
began to look and speak in a more Americanized way.
Moving to Annandale reminded me more of home, because it’s a closer
community than the city, and where I lived in Baghdad was similar. I’m
so thankful to be here right now and this whole experience has taught
me to never judge someone because of how they speak or where they come
from, and to always ask people if they need help, because no one
really did that for me when I came here.