a

Kinan’s Refugee Story

Jun 22, 2022Blog, Culture

My name is Kinan and I’m from Damascus, Syria. I live in Murfreesboro, TN together with my husband and two kids and I teach high school chemistry. My journey to be able to write that last sentence has been so long and hard that sometimes I can’t even believe my own story. 

Let me start at the beginning.

Before the war in Syria, we were a family of 4. My husband had a clothing company, I was a chemistry teacher, and my two kids were young. In 2011, the war started in Syria and one year later, we decided to flee the country because life started to be very dangerous, and so we went to Lebanon. After two years, the refugee crisis became so great with so many refugees living in Lebanon that my husband’s residency in Lebanon was denied, so he decided to move to Turkey and hopefully gain residence there or in another European country. He went alone and I remained with my kids in Lebanon and waited to see what would happen. He was not finding a way to move us altogether somewhere.

I had a tourist visa to visit my brother who was a doctor at Vanderbilt, so I knew I could come to the United States, but I had to decide if I would leave my kids temporarily in order to come to the U.S. and apply for them to join me. People ask me how I could leave my kids. Some people even accused me of being a bad mother. Deep inside I knew I had to find a place for us all to live together and it seemed that the U.S. was the best option. I cried and cried, but I knew it was what I had to do.

In 2014, I arrived in the U.S. alone – I left my kids with my parents in Lebanon and my husband was still in Turkey.

When I got to the U.S., I realized I needed to learn English and also start the asylum process so that I could gain permanent residence here and apply for my family to join me. I started learning English from churches that offered classes while I was waiting for my asylum to be processed and I also worked packing textbooks at a warehouse. Unfortunately, the U.S. wouldn’t accept my chemistry degree or teaching certification from Syria, so I applied to MTSU to re-earn my chemistry degree and teaching certification. This whole time period in my life was characterized by working hard and getting so close to good things, but then something bad would happen. I was accepted to MTSU and received financial aid, but then was later denied it. I was accepted into the teaching program, but they wouldn’t transfer my Syrian GPA, so I had to take more classes. I earned a student teaching job, but lost that job and had to take more classes still. Losing this job made me experience so much grief because I had been so close to becoming a chemistry teacher again.

In the meantime, my kids had joined my husband in Turkey. It was so hard for me to be living in the U.S. without my kids and my husband. After two years, my kids were granted a visa to join me in the United States. I was overjoyed to see my kids again after two years – it’s difficult to even explain what that felt like. My husband’s visa was going to require additional screening as an adult male, but this process was only supposed to take a couple additional months – I was desperate to see him. Again a good thing happened – my kids came, but then before my husband could get screened, U.S. policy changed again and there was a travel ban against Syrians entering the United States. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to see my husband again unless I gave up everything I had worked for in the U.S. and went to join him.

We were hoping for an exception to the travel ban because the rest of the family was already living here, and we kept sending emails to the embassies and trying to hold onto hope. Finally, after two more years, my husband made it to the United States. I can’t even describe what that felt like to see my husband again after 4 years apart. It was such a surprise – no one could even believe that it was able to happen.

So, now you know the long journey it took to be living with my husband and two kids in the home we bought. After so many times of starting over, I’m finally a chemistry teacher. I teach at a high school with a lot of students like me. When they walk into my classroom and see me, they get so excited to have a teacher who looks like them and knows their culture. I love being able to make them feel welcomed. When I look back I can’t even believe my own story – I faced the challenges of civil war, being separated from my family, starting over, and discrimination. It was all very difficult and hard to put into words. After so many years though, we are here and settled. 

*Kinan is a guest writer and an asylee from Syria. She and Cross Point staff member Sarah Herrick met and became friends through a program at World Relief. We are highlighting her story and personal experience as an asylee living in Tennessee.