Uncertain Times for Libyan Student in the U.S.

Editor’s note: On January 27, 2017, President Donald Trump issued an executive order suspending entry into the United States by citizens of seven Middle Eastern countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) for three months. The order also suspended all entry by refugees for four months, with Syrian refugees barred indefinitely. The order has been struck down in federal court, but the Trump administration says it plans to seek a stay of the ruling in the coming days.

In 2012 I was awarded a scholarship by the Libyan Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research to study abroad for a master’s degree. I am now a candidate for a master’s in teaching English as a second language at Colorado State University in the United States.

I chose this university for two reasons: first, the TESL program here has a phenomenal reputation; second, I felt it would be a great opportunity for growth and to build on my seven years of experience teaching English as a second language in Libya.

While working toward my degree, I applied for and was lucky enough to receive an internship in teaching English as a second language at Colorado State University’s program for foreign students preparing for university study in the United States. I am now a part-time English language instructor in that program.

Being a student and an instructor here at Colorado State has motivated me to do my best regardless of what was happening at home in Libya. During my stay here, I have had to deal with some difficult issues, such as the death of my brother’s wife from cancer, my father being seriously injured, and often not receiving my monthly living allowance on time. On top of that, I was not able to visit my family during troubling times because my visa allows me only one entry into the United States.

None of this was an excuse for me. I worked hard and motivated myself to achieve more. I have now secured a position as a graduate teaching assistant at the Colorado State University library, teaching freshmen how to use the library database. I also obtained a digital media internship to promote the English department at Colorado State. I was beginning to think I had achieved the American dream.

I never thought this dream would be turned into a nightmare. At first, I did not think Donald Trump would win the presidential election, since it seemed that most people in Colorado were not going to vote for him. Just four days before the election, President Bill Clinton visited Fort Collins to encourage voters to vote for his wife, Hillary Clinton. The atmosphere was very promising. I shook hands with President Clinton and even took a selfie with him. On November 9, 2016, I heard the shocking news that Trump had become the president-elect of the United States.

I will never forget how classmates, co-workers, and my students felt that day. It was like I was at a funeral. Everyone was quiet and sad. One of my co-workers hugged me and started crying. She said, “I feel sorry for you, Mohamed! I am sorry for what happened last night.” Another colleague said, “I am glad that I do not have children, so I do not have to explain what happened in America last night.”

A week after Trump became president, and issued an executive order severely limiting the right of entry by refugees and citizens of certain countries (including mine) into the United States, I received a great deal of support from my advisers, classmates and co-workers. But some Libyan colleagues were not as lucky as me. For instance, when the executive order was issued, my friend’s wife Hanan was in Jordan on her way back to the United States after attending her father’s funeral and visiting her sick mother in Libya. Hanan was stuck in the airport with her baby boy (who since he had been born in the United States was an American citizen). She was not allowed to leave the airport as she was a transit passenger. I had to help her husband, since his proficiency in English is not good. Through Facebook I contacted my former English instructor who is now a lawyer in Denver. She and her colleagues helped me, and Colorado State officials helped Hanan with legal services and contacted U.S. officials about her case. She is now on a plane to Boston. I hope she makes it.

My plan for the future was always to do a Ph.D. at a good university. I might seem very optimistic and confident about this—this is the American spirit. But recent events have affected my thinking. I was planning to visit my family and get married before doing my Ph.D. At the moment, this does not seem possible.

However, what has happened in recent weeks has also shown me the values that Americans stand for. Personally, I received enormous support from all of the Americans I know here, and even outside the United States. What makes America great is not the opportunities that it offers, nor its democracy. America is great because of its kind and friendly citizens. Honestly, I am speechless!

*Mohamed Almahdi, a Libyan candidate for a master’s degree in teaching English as a second language at Colorado State University in the United States.


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