“At the end of my eighth-grade year in school, my parents delivered life-changing news: “We’re moving,” my mother told me. I was overcome with sorrow and happiness, but could not quite decide how to respond. We were moving to America.

“I was born and raised in Lebanon in a family of six. Both of my parents came from huge families. My dad was one of eight kids and my mom was one of nine. I grew up to appreciate the meaning of family. As my parents grew up in Lebanon, they had to witness and live through a 15-year civil war that brought turmoil and destruction to our country. Men, women, and children went missing without anyone knowing how or why. Families where broken and brothers fought each other. My grandmother still tells me that the Lebanon before the bloody years was the most gorgeous land on Earth, but that Lebanon today is colored by blood, corruption, and a terrible government.

“We weren’t the first in the family to go to America. While my father’s family stayed in Lebanon, two of my mom’s brothers studied at The University of Texas at Austin, and eventually gained their U.S. citizenship. And both of my uncles began applying to bring their family members from Lebanon.

“Because of the war, my parents were unable to graduate from college. My dad dropped out his junior year of high school to support his family during those terrible times, and my mom dropped out of college to become a teacher. My dad became a successful private business owner in Lebanon, and always laughed at the idea of ever leaving his homeland to move to the United States. When I was young, my uncle—visiting Lebanon—would urge me to convince my parents to leave. We laughed at the very idea of it.

“Yet in 2013, I was packing my bag and getting on a one-way ticket to Austin. I was 13 years old, with two older sisters and a younger brother. Tension in Lebanon was rising as a result of spillover from the Syrian War, and my parents were not ready to witness another war—or allow us to go through what they had suffered. My school year got cut short by two weeks as a result of a shooting, and my trip got fast-forwarded.

“All I knew about the United States was from silly movies I had seen—“Mean Girls,” “Clueless,” and others. I knew and I believed that high school was going to be difficult; I didn’t speak English and I was sure I would be bullied. But nothing I had seen in the movies was real; high school wasn’t like that at all.

I remain grateful for the opportunities I have been given here. I can’t imagine how my life would have turned out, had I stayed in Lebanon.

“Six years later, and my whole family has found success here. I am now an official United States citizen and a junior at the University of Texas at Austin—majoring in Economics and minoring in Finance. My interest in politics and my goal of achieving freedom and just government in Lebanon drew me to an internship with the Texas Public Policy Foundation this summer.

“My oldest sister just graduated from the UT Austin with a Petroleum Engineer degree and accepted an offer from Shell in Houston. My other sister graduated from UT as well, with a double major in International Relations and Economics, and is now getting her Master of Finance degree at McCombs. The youngest of the family is now a senior at Anderson High School and we hope he will follow the family traditions and attend UT Austin.

“This country and its opportunities has shaped me into the fierce and confident person I am today. I have learned that government can be just—unlike what I was used to in Lebanon. I’m grateful to America—and glad that I got onto a plane to seek the American Dream, and did not look back.”