The author, Walid Hasanato, standing in front of the University of Evansville sign

From Mid East to Mid West: A journey from Syria to Indiana.

Earning a scholarship to study at the University of Evansville changed my life for the better.

By Walid Hasanato
UE Class of 2018

I was raised by parents who feared the worst, and prayed for the ultimate. They instructed me clearly on what was right and what was wrong, tunneling my vision to 2 alleys: black and white. Thus, I grew up always attempting to classify experiences into the two very narrow categories I was programmed to understand. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change anything about my upbringing for I did learn and adhere as I grew. Yet at 17, I was still at a naïve level trying to understand whether it was right to leave for the United States or not.

I arrived at Chicago O’Hare airport on the 23rd of August, 2014: my 18th birthday. I handed my passport to the TSA officer to check me into the gate for my flight to Evansville, Indiana, where I was to attend university. She handed me the passport back with a smile and wished me a happy birthday. I barely grimaced in the most artificial of manners as I rushed forward. Thinking to myself, I questioned the officer’s actions, “Why would she smile and greet a complete stranger? Does she not know better? Am I overthinking this? Should I have been more polite?”

The classifying mechanism was hitting its prime with me and I was measuring every interaction very closely. In my head, I viewed the United States to be the novel journey where culture there is not like culture I had ever experienced, where business there is not conducted like business I ever conducted, where people there are not like people I have ever encountered. And thus, I wanted to understand the environment before I plunged into errors.

In the following month, I did plunge into errors — only to find a comfortable bed of experiences breaking my fall. You see, the more I read into the wonderful and nice encounters I had with the people of Evansville, the more I understood that the issue is that of a simpler frame. Life is better when you are genuine, simple, nice, and inviting. Life is better when you are human.

Walid, on the far right, celebrating with his Scholars for Syria group. Photo: Gail Vignola

And although the people of this small town grew up thousands of miles away from me, eating different food than mine, watching different TV shows than mine, I realized that their perceptions were very similar to mine. That if a man from the Middle East would grow up and be educated in the States, he would flourish just like the natives of this land, and if a Westerner would grow up in the Arab world, he would grow up just as confused as I am. The curtain came down and I understand today that the people I feared standing behind a curtain were very similar to me, were very human. Happily, what was standing behind the curtain was a mirror.