Friday, May 26, 2017

Ahmad Soussi: Capitalizing On an International Perspective

While most Americans were watching the 2012 events in Benghazi, Libya, unfold on the evening news, Westchester Academy for International Studies senior Ahmad Soussi had a front-row seat.

Though he was born in California, Ahmad’s parents, Nasrine Elhassani and Mansour Soussi, both Libyans, wanted their children to connect with the Arabic culture on a long-term basis.

“We had visited there many times,” Ahmad says. Vacations were great. “I was special. Everyone wanted to talk with me.”

Moving there, not so much.

“Everyone considered me different,” he said. “I spoke Arabic with an American accent. I didn’t joke the same way they did. I had problems acclimating.”

It took a while to fit in. In the five years he was in Libya, he attended four schools.

“In each one, I was seen as an American,” said Ahmad. “In the last two schools, I didn’t tell anyone I was from the United States. After I had been there four years, I started feeling like I belonged.”

When the Libyan revolution began in 2011, his family chose not to leave the country. Though he saw guns everywhere he went, there was no active fighting. Ahmad didn’t feel like he was in danger.

His school closed for almost a year, so students enrolled in a variety of clubs and programs to stay busy. When school started again, he squeezed a full academic year into five months.

By 2014, the situation had worsened. It took nine hours for his extended family to reach the airport, driving through an abandoned city that he describes as “a scene from Call of Duty.”

His family lived in Istanbul, Turkey, for nine months where he attended an international school and made many Syrian and Iraqi friends.

They were happy in Turkey, but his parents had always intended to return to the United States before Ahmad and his sisters (now students at WAIS and Thornwood Elementary) began college. Ironically, it was WAIS that attracted the family to Houston rather than California.

“My aunt told my mom about the International Baccalaureate program,” said Ahmad, “so she always had this school in mind.”

It was a good fit, but once again, Ahmad was faced with adjusting to a different culture.

“Now I spoke with an Arabic accent, and I had lost some of my English. That made me inpatient with myself,” he says.

There was more. He didn’t understand his peers’ social media vocabulary in their speech and writing. And, never exposed to football, he had to quickly get on board with the Houston Texans.

He immediately loved the closeness of the student body. He joined families within the larger WAIS family. He gravitated to Theatre Arts where he learned lighting, set design and acting. And he joined Stratford High School’s tennis team.

Classes were liberating – “I like that IB teaches history as a story.” – and challenging.

”Before coming here, I had never written a real essay,” he said. “I learned to analyze and write. Now I can write a 1,000-word essay from one prompt. That’s a sign of how good the teachers are. I appreciate that they made it seem easy.”

“Ahmad has impressed me these past two years with his desire to push himself academically,” says Beverly Martin, WAIS Lead Counselor. “He has overcome a few struggles along the way, but those have only made him a stronger individual. He is an outstanding young man – witty and endearing – and I look forward to seeing his future success.”

Ahmad’s two years at WAIS have been life-changing. And so were the six years abroad.

“Who I am has changed,” he said. “I’ve seen two parts of the world where the people have misconceptions about each other. The ability to understand another point of view will help me in my career.”

He isn’t sure about his career yet. He plans to attend the University of Houston and pursue mechanical engineering or business. Either way, he knows there are parts of his past that will go with him into the future: theatre, tennis, his worldview and his family.

“I’m very close to my parents,” Ahmad said. “I see how hard they worked to give us an international experience. My mom left her parents and sisters in Turkey to bring us here for a good education.”

Ahmad says he found more than a good education.

“While I was working hard to catch up with my classmates academically, theatre was my place to escape,” he said.  “I worked hard there too. When I was elected vice-president of the Thespian Honor Society, I felt people recognized my effort.”


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