When I was 17 I decided to move to the United States in order to go to Harvard and create a more meaningful life for myself. I am completely blind, and at the time of this decision I didn’t speak any English, so when I told my parents they thought I was crazy or joking – they didn't take me seriously. Although I’m originally from Syria, I was living in Saudi Arabia at the time because my father owned an international company that transported passengers and goods from Saudi Arabia throughout the Middle East.
After making my decision, I went to the American embassy in Saudi Arabia and applied for a tourist visa, but I was rejected because there was chaos in Syria at the time and they weren’t approving tourist visas to the United States – so I applied for a student visa. To apply for a student visa you need an acceptance letter from an American institution, so I got an acceptance letter from a school which teaches English to foreigners through a one-week program.
After I got my acceptance letter I went to an interview at the American embassy. After the interview they told me to leave my passport at the FedEx in the embassy and that they would notify me when it was approved. I went through this process three times and was denied each time. The fourth time I left my passport at the FedEx center I didn’t have high hopes.
The previous three times I waited maybe one or two weeks for a rejection…but the fourth time the process took longer. A month passed by and I was overwhelmed with worry and couldn’t eat or sleep.
Normally the only time you can go to the American embassy is when you have an appointment. But I had the crazy idea that I should just go there to check on the status, so that’s what I did. I approached the embassy and God only knows how many officers were holding rifles and pointing them at me. I’m glad I couldn’t see them.
“What are you doing here?” They yelled.
“My passport is inside. It's been one month and I haven’t heard anything.”
“You can't be here without an appointment. Send an email.”
“My family is going on a summer vacation to Lebanon in 15 days. If I don’t have my passport I can’t go with them!”
“Send an email.”
My family ended up going to Lebanon without me…
A second month passed and still I hadn't heard anything. Every time I sent an email I got a short response that said my application was pending. I was so nervous I lost 22 pounds in two months. I didn’t want to end up in Saudi Arabia for the rest of my life – I knew I would not thrive there.
The third month passed by. I wondered if they lost my passport. Or maybe they just burned it because I was Syrian? I thought: why does this happen to me? I just want to better myself in a country with more opportunities. The fourth month passed by…