Serina and Sahar’s Story

I had the opportunity to work with an organization based in Kentucky called Kentucky Refugee Ministries. The company works with refugees who relocate to Kentucky, trying to help them get their way around their new homes. KRM (Kentucky Refugee Ministries) works to provide them with resources like jobs, medical appointments and homes, getting a driver’s license or learning about the American way of life. This summer, I was an intern for the KRM office in Lexington, KY. Along with my usual tasks of scanning papers, making boxes of item to be placed in the homes of refugee families and aiding with tasks around their office, I also got to work with their team on a writing project that focused on the refugee youth.

The refugee youth is a group of people who can often be overlooked when it comes to resettlement. They may be too young or more often than not, expected to figure out this new life on their own. as someone who moved to a new country at an impressionable age, I understood the perils and challenges of moving to a new country. Although our stories and journeys are different, I found that most youth share the same sense of excitement and loneliness when it comes to resettlement. I got to interview five students, from various countries and backgrounds, and talked to them about their move.

This is Serina and Sahar’s story.

One of the greatest challenges that both immigrants and refugees who relocate to the United States face is learning the English language. English is widely regarded as a notoriously hard language to learn and adding that to the general stress and difficulty of moving to an entirely new country can often make the life of the refugee youth even harder. Although it is a very popular language amongst many people, English is not taught around the world and for some families, it is a path to a better life. 

Serina and Sahar Shalash moved to the United States from Jordan two years ago. Sahar is in 7thgrade and Serina is in 6th grade, and they were still in elementary school when their family, their parents and three siblings, moved to the United States. Their primary goal was to learn the language which would help them get a good education and a way to live a better life and a very different one from the one they left behind. 

Many families who move to the US come here for a better life, especially for their children. Serina and Sahar’s family was no different. They came here hoping that their children would be able to learn and communicate in a language that would be spoken all over the world. However, this move came with its own challenges. 

Sahar said that she found it hard to understand her peers in school. Not only did the language barrier make her school life more challenging but also the cultural difference. She said her fellow classmates were very different from her and found it hard to make friends. Learning English was not as much of a problem for her, she relied on her studies, books, and a couple of movies to get the knowledge she needed.

Most of the youth that immigrates to a new country, especially at an older age, faces the challenge of fitting in. It is hard enough to have to leave behind friends and family, the two sisters said that it was the worst part about having to leave Jordan, but the several cultural shocks which came with moving here makes the transition to US much harder than anticipated. On the other hand, Serina had a different story from her older sister. She talked about how she made friends very easily in her new school and did not face as much of a challenge in classes. One teacher stuck out for her. An English teacher who was respectful of the recently immigrated teenager and made sure to make Serina sit in the front of the classroom during her lessons. 

I often hear about stories of teachers and their impact on their students, especially those refugee youth who face more challenges than anyone in their classroom can imagine. Speaking from my own experience as a student who immigrated to the US when I was 12, certain teachers are still in my mind as I think about my adjustment to my new home. Their actions and encouragement made more of an impact on my life than they could imagine. Sometimes, even the simplest praises or words of advice would turn a hard day into a positive one.  

Serina and Sahar’s stories show a window into an aspect of refugee youth that many people seem to forget. While a large focus is given on the adults who make the decision, or are forced to make the decision, to move to a new country, the youth are often not mentioned. Sometimes, the children are expected to adjust on their own which is unfair to their lack of experience. Their stories are reminders to adults, students, and teachers about the importance of sensitivity and patience. The journey of learning English would become more than just a challenge to overcome, it would be a start to a new world of opportunities. 

This is the website for Kentucky Refugee Ministries which will feature a few ways you can get involved in helping their mission



Two blue lines.

My heart was racing as I checked the test again.

Two. Blue. Lines.

One little head, poking out of the white blanket.

Six letters, S-H-E-L-L-Y. On the gift box label, left on my doorstep,

A gift for the baby, read my neighbor’s scrawly handwriting.

Two syllables, Mama, was Shelly’s first word. 

Fifteen books, I bragged to the moms around me.

Fifteen books and counting, on Shelly’s bookshelf.

I told them Shelly was made for great things.

Three months, the oncologist told us.

Three more months to the end of my daughter’s short life.

Three more months till the evil growing in her head would take over our lives, and end it.

Four candles on the cake. My daughter blew them out, ignoring the dull pain in her head.

10:18 PM, time of death.

2014-2018. Here lies Shelly. 

This poem was featured on Kentucky Arts Council’s Facebook page to celebrate Kentucky Writer’s Day. Check it out!

Let’s Not Talk About Race

“Anytime a white person encounters a Black person who writes about race — or just a Black person who just happens to be Black —  the Serious Conversation About Racism (SCAR) must ensue. This isn’t a new phenomenon. I’ve been SCAR-ed before in the grocery store express aisle, between pickup hoop games at the gym, while getting a colonoscopy, and at least 82 percent of the unsolicited emails I get are drive-by SCARings. 

This part of the article was the one that stood out to me the most when I was reading it. “Yeah, Let’s not talk about Race” is an article written by Damon Young that talks about how talking about race with a person of color has now become a new way of proving that you are not racist. He wrote about how, with the wake of the protests and outrage following the brutal deaths of many African Americans at the hands of law enforcements, anytime a white person would see him anywhere, a “Serious Conversation about Race” would inevitably follow. I really liked this article because it lead me to thinking back to another conversation I had with a group of kids from an online program a few weeks back. We had talked about whose job it was to educate others. In this particular conversation, we talked about whether it was a Black person’s job to educate a non Black person about why saying the n word is wrong or racist. Is it a gay person’s job to tell someone who isn’t a part of the LGBTQ+ community why Pride month is celebrated or why certain words shouldn’t be used because they have homophobic connotations. Or should the other person be educating themselves? When someone is born a minority, like a person of color or a woman, or comes out as a part of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s almost as if they are given automatic duties to go around carrying a big poster that says “I would like to talk to you about being oppressed.” 

Now with that being said, I don’t think that it is completely wrong to ask someone about something that you believe they would know the best about. Whether it’s a Black person about police brutality or a woman about inequality in the workplace, more often that not, they are more than happy to educate than deal with someone who has no idea what they are talking about, but please don’t think that as a minority, it is our moral duty to educate and teach you just because you don’t want to do it yourself. I believe that the best way to deal with racism, sexism or any “ism” is to have the integrity to teach yourself and not make a big show about  being this very educated, and “woke” person. In the end of the day, our standard for others shouldn’t be that low. As someone who isn’t a certain minority it is your moral duty to educate yourself on different issues, not ours.

And no, I don’t want to talk about race.  

A Short Story

I woke up in a cold sweat. I was in an unknown room, not the comfortable room I had fallen asleep in last night. I wiped my eyes and watched sunlight streaming into the room. When my eyes finally adjusted to the light, I took a look around my room. It was a small space with blinding white walls. There was a desk, a bed and a bedside table, which, I later discovered, was completely empty. I got out of bed and walked to the window. The view didn’t give me any clue of where I was. It was a large field, the clouds had covered the sky and I could see a small road leading to the building I was in. That lead me back to my initial question, where was I? I racked my brain, trying to remember where I was. I thought of my last memory, visiting my daughter and her kids. My daughter had been angry about something, I remembered an argument but I couldn’t remember what caused the fight. All I got was flashes of things she had yelled at me. “You’re getting old, mom!” and “Second time this week!” 

I frowned, what an unpleasant memory. I remember walking home-or did I drive? I tried remembering everything I knew about myself. I was 78 years old, I had one daughter and I lived in an apartment in Chicago. I had visited the doctor a month ago but I couldn’t remember why. I looked back outside. I noticed a road leading into the building I was in. Had I seen that before?

Suddenly I heard steps outside my door. I ran to the door, banging on it loudly, “Let me out! Help!” I was desperate, but to no avail. The steps quietened and I was back to the silence. After an hour of trying to recover my memory and try and remember where I was, my door slowly opened, I jumped off my bed and saw a woman, dressed in blue nurse scrubs and had a big smile. She pushed a trolley into my room and shut the door before I could make a run for it. I got a brief glimpse of the outside world. It was a plain hallway. The nurse smiled at me, “Morning dear! How did you sleep?”

“Where am I? Who are you?” I questioned her. She laughed, “Oh silly, you know who I am and why you are here!” She turned to her cart, it was full of medicinal bottles. She took something out, it was a needle. I began yelling on top of my lungs, “Stop! Stop! Get away from me! Help me!” I grabbed the window and pushed it open. I tried sticking my hand out but realized there was a glass to block me from jumping out. I ran to the door, pulling at the handle. The nurse never lost her smile and pulled me back into my bed. I got another flash of memory. My daughter standing near the door as I walked away from her. no, I was being lead away. I looked back at her and she was crying and apologizing. Why? In my moment of weakness, the nurse grabbed my arm, pushed me into my bed and pushed the needle into my arm. I felt a wave of coolness fill my body and I was weak. I collapsed onto my bed and my eyes began closing. “There, that should do the trick for the rest of the day.” She walked back to her cart and in my last moments of consciousness, I saw a shadow open the door. “What’s wrong?” He asked. “”Nothing, she forgot she was in the home again. Gave her a small dose. Poor things, the older they get, the less they remember.” The shadowy figure nodded, “Alzheimer’s, it’s a killer.” The two walked out as my eyes shut. Lastly I heard the door close. 

I woke up in a cold sweat. I was in an unknown room, not my comfortable room where, I could have sworn, I had fallen asleep in..


A Silent Enemy That Is Here To Stay.

Stereotypes have been the bane of many people’s existence. As a young teenager who moved to a new country, I have dealt with a fair share of stereotypes people have made about me. I have gotten questions about why I wasn’t a vegetarian or how I knew English so well. I usually try to not jump to conclusions about anyone and I think of them as misinformed, not racist. Unfortunately, despite how many technological advances we have made, things we have discovered and people who have risen to power against the odds, why do we still face stereotypes?

Can we stop people from making stereotypes? My answer is no, most of us still make stereotypes of people, even if you consider yourself to be “progressive”. In a New York Times article that talked about equal rights in the workplace, a Pew Research Center study found that despite affirmations that the sexes should be treated equally, the same people believe that men should receive preferential treatment in some cases. The poll was taken a few years back but the facts remain the same. Even when it comes to something so heavily debated as equal treatment for women in the workplace, people still prefer having men in control over certain tasks. 

Stereotyping has become human nature for us. Asking for global acceptance and everyone loving their neighbors is too much. The only way to truly beat stereotypes is to understand the word itself. An article published in the “Greater Good Magazine” stated, psychologists call our mental shortcuts “heuristics”—and we need them to help our brains navigate the world. For example, when we are planning to travel to Chicago in December, we use these shortcuts, or stereotypes, of a winter in Chicago and remember to bring coats. Stereotypes become dangerous when they are used against certain people, and people who believe in these stereotypes start acting on them. They can be used to excuse harmful actions made against races or genders.

My family is from India. I would say that my parents and I are very progressive, compared to many of my friends and their families. When I was 12, I moved to America and that was when I realized that I had also been making unfair stereotypes about America. Growing up, I always had the images of tall men with guns and cowboy hats After traveling more to USA, they were quickly shut down after I met and learned more about the people here.

Unfortunately, we can’t beat this problem easily. But we can beat stereotypes by speaking up against them. When someone says a joke that intentionally makes fun or stereotypes a group of people, protest. Say that the joke is wrong and the person should not have said that. Even though the person may not listen to you, it’s better to try than stay silent. A bully is only fueled by support. Try to get to know a person before you make an assumption about them. Simple steps like these could slow the growth of stereotypical statements and make the world a bit kinder. 

Why My Family Moved To The US

My family moved to the US in 2018. My mom had gotten a promotion and needed to be in her company’s headquarters in Lexington Kentucky. I was 12 when we moved. Initially I was upset at the thought of leaving my friends, home and family to move to a foreign country and being a new kid. However, the thought of living in the land of freedom and opportunities was much bigger than the fear of change. We were thrilled about the life we would get to live in America. In the beginning, I used to feel very foreign. I live in a city where there aren’t that many Indian families which was very strange for me and I would feel like an outcast anytime I was in public. After getting over the initial insecurity, I took advantage of the place I was in. I signed up for any opportunity I got my hands on. Moving here helped me get so many new windows to improve and show off my interests and passions. That is why my family moved to America, for equal possibilities and platforms to excel. 

This article is also published on It is under the tab of “opportunity”.

Life during a Pandemic

By now, anyone who exists on the planet had heard of the global pandemic that is COVID-19. My state has over 10 cases as of March 17th. My county has had 2 cases. My school closed last week and it is going to be closed for 3 weeks. I’m afraid that they will be closing it for the rest of the year! How awful would that be, especially since this is my last year in middle school. So anyways, I am officially in my second day of “self-quarantine” . I am, knock on wood, pretty healthy and so are my parents. This quarantine is only to protect ourselves from getting the virus and/or spreading it to others who have a weaker health. My city hasn’t been locked down yet. I am free to go anywhere but all the big places like libraries and gyms have been shut down. Restaurants are changing to delivery and pick up only. I’m pretty sure that going to malls is banned. In my house, during the times that we aren’t shut up in our respective rooms to work or, in my case study, we are glued to CNN, watching any and every update that is happening. 

But, I’m not here to lecture you on the COVID-19. I wanted to share my story and what I have been thinking during this situation. I first heard about a “mysterious virus affecting China” in the first week of January. I remember watching a video talking about how 2020 was of to a bad start, with the wildfires in Australia, the death of Kobe Bryant and this virus. At the time, I remember thinking, “Wow, I hope 2020 get better!”

(Oh boy if I only knew)

To me, I felt like this virus suddenly became so world wide. One day, the news was talking about cases in China and the next day, BAM, it’s all over Europe. Before I knew it, I woke up one March morning to hear my mom saying, 

“The Coronavirus is in Lexington.”

It was the morning of Dance Blue, an event organized by UK in our school to raise money for cancer patients. Thinking back, that night was probably the last big event for my eighth grade year. 

Only a week after Dance Blue, My eighth grade trip to Chicago that I had been preparing and anticipating for months was cancelled.  My mind was mentally preparing myself the trip being cancelled after I read that there had been several cases in Illinois. It still felt terrible. I felt like the virus had hit too close to home. Now, a week later, I’m stuck at home, my parents are both working from home. Up till today, almost all public places have been shut down, with the exception of our grocery stores. Almost no one is seen outside, which isn’t actually that surprising for Lexington. 

So now what? I am trying to not be too worried or panicked. It is crazy that we are living through something so historically important. I am waiting till thing can go back to normal, however long it takes. I will try and keep updating my blog on the different things that happen. To my readers, remember the three biggest ways to prevent spread of infection- wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face and maintain SOCIAL DISTANCING! Don’t go on a trip to Florida when you know that there have been cases there and you could get infected. Avoid going to a party because it’s your friend’s birthday. 

And please stop hoarding up on toilet paper (spoiler alert- the Coronavirus doesn’t give you bad gas.)

All I can say right now is, stay safe! Try not to worry too much and think about the other.

What Traveling Taught Me

I consider myself to be a very lucky person because at the age of 14, I have been to over 14 countries. Since the time I was very young, my parents have been taking me all around the world. Growing up my parents didn’t travel internationally as much as I did. My dad was an army kid who grew up all over the country. On the other hand my mom stayed in one city practically her whole life. Their shared love and curiosity for travel and seeing the whole world led to me getting to experience all sorts of fascinating places. 

Travelling helped me see all sorts of amazing places. My earliest travel memory is going to Thailand. It was a great holiday, the first of many. That trip exposed me to a different culture, different food and different people. Even though I was too young to notice the change around me, it did help me normalise the fact that there is a big and diverse world around me. Since that trip, my parents and I have travelled to a lot of different places. We were super crazy about these trips. We would spend weeks and weeks planning out where we should go and what we should do there. After we would reach our holiday destination, we would spend the trip seeing all the attractions, eating the food and meeting the locals. My favorite trip of all had to be the time we went to Greece. The trip was memorable to me because it was a trip I had always wanted to make. After my phase of being hooked to Greek history and mythology, going and seeing places like the Parthenon and temple of Poseidon made my inner mytholgy nerd burst with happiness. 

Travelling has opened my knowledge about the world around me. When my parents and I went to Vietnam, I hadn’t known much about the country. My trip taught me a lot of the country’s rich culture. We learnt more about the Vietnam war and visited all the different war museums. One museum exhibit showed a couple of American planes that had crashed into that exact spot and had been left there as a souvenir of war. Even my travels within my country taught me a lot. When I went to the city of Agra, India during a school trip, I was taught more about the Mughal dynasty of India and the fascinating and tragic tale of the king Shah Jahan who built the Taj mahal in honour of his late wife. Even when I visited the city of London or Paris, I got to see gain an understanding of European history. The best part about getting to travel and learn about new places is that you get to see these places in front of your eyes. Whether it be castles or the ruins of a lost city, or a giant monument or a street named to honour a famous resident. Travelling helps you learn from the best source, the place itself. 

Travelling helped me become a better global citizen. I will not be ashamed to admit that where I grew up, people were not always as aware of the world around me as I was. Even living in a big city in India was practically nothing compared to big cities in America. Here, the people my age who I have met are much more aware and generally more comfortable with people who are different than them. When I was growing up, change wasn’t as welcomed as it is now. Whenever we would encounter someone even remotely different, we would immediately start to worry, or we would just be confused. I’m not saying that it as our fault. I grew up in a city that wasn’t as diverse as American cities. Travelling however changed that for me. Travelling taught me many simple etiquettes that people would appreciate coming from a foreigner. Basic courtesies like not cutting the line or speaking slowly while talking to people who may not understand your language or accent. Sometimes I had to learn by experience. Nothing can be more humiliating than making a mistake and having a dozen people look at you like you committed a great sin. Travelling helps you also understand that some people prefer that you don’t do a certain thing and one must accept that.

Lastly travelling gave me the best experiences. As a writer, I always loved going on vacation because I knew that the trip may give me a couple of fun adventures and stories for me to use and write about. My travels would almost always have one or two crazy adventure or mishaps that I would immediately go home and write about. How else would I have been able to be stuck on a small boat in a rural part of Thailand, in the rain and in the middle of the night if it wasn’t for my parents love for booking the oddest places for us to stay? Or how else would I have been able to see practically the whole of Singapore if we hadn’t walked 10 miles to our hotel after our dinner? Travelling really brings out your inner adventurous side, whether its pure luck or the nature of your circumstances. I can always look back to my trips around the world if I ever need something to write about and it almost always makes a very entertaining story!

In conclusion, travelling gives so much more than photographs and a couple of memories. Travelling can enrich and change your life in the best way possible. It helps you in so many ways, ways that you may not even know. Even going to visit some attractions in your hometown or places around you. You can really be surprised with what all you may discover. You may find out that your city was a big part of the civil war or it was a hometown to a famous painter! I really believe that every place on the earth has something cool or travel worthy about it. The world is a vast and diverse place. So why spend your time learning about different places on paper when you should take every opportunity you get to see the world.

Each of these trips have given me so many lessons, memories and adventures. I encourage everyone to try and explore the world as best as they can. You will be surprised to find out what you will end up seeing. 

Moving to America

About a year ago I landed in the state of Kentucky, USA. My mom had been transferred and that meant that the three of us had to pack up our bags, say our goodbyes, lock up our house and move to the US. This past year has been one of the most challenging but exciting years of my life. So if you want to read about my adventures in the land of the free, read on!

My parents had been thinking of moving out of India for a long time. We had considered Canada and my dad had got an offer to move to Singapore from his company. So in the back of my mind I knew that I was going to be moving somewhere, within the next year or so. It was sometime in January, at night when my mom got a call from her boss. He told her about the job offer in America, which would be a huge promotion but also meant she would have to move to Lexington KY, the corporate headquarters of their company. She then told my dad who told me. I would love to say that I took the news well, but I didn’t. I bawled my eyes out at the mere thought of leaving my friends, school and comfortable life to move to this foreign place. Thankfully after I calmed down, I came to my senses and realized what an amazing opportunity this was.

The next six months were probably the weirdest months of that year. I was still kind of in denial that I was going to be moving COUNTRIES in less than a year. I didn’t really put much thought into my position, and I believed “ I don’t have to worry about moving for AGES.” We mainly spent all this time waiting for our visa to get approved and preparing everything and everyone for the move. I also tried spending my last few months in my home spending time with my friends and people who I would be leaving behind there. My friends were also very sweet to me and we spent a lot of time together. Finally on August 6th, my parents and I went in for our visa interview and WE GOT APPROVED

The next few days or rather weeks was a huge world wind. We had to pack up or house, my parents had to fly down to Lexington to get a house and utilities and enrol me into school. The week they were there, I would call them everyday and hear them describing the city and my house and my school. I would see the pictures they would send me and when I think about it now, the pictures gave me an illusion very different from what it was. Life in India became pretty different too. We had to say a lot of goodbyes and host many farewell parties.  The last week I was in school happened to be our examination week. Unfortunately I did have to take the tests, but I didn’t stress about it like my other friends. Hello? I would be living and studying in AMERICA in the next week. I wasn’t worried about whether I passed the Biology test or not.

(Just kidding I did put in a lot of effort into these tests despite everything that was on my mind. Remember to study kids!)

The last day of school was bittersweet for me. We had our language exam that day, so everyone was too busy studying to throw a “Goodbye Zoya!” party for me. I wasn’t complaining. I had thrown a small get-together for my closest friends a couple of days before and they were all the best. The last bell of the day rang, and I left my school, where I spent 10 years of my life, after saying the tearful and hugs-filled goodbyes to my best friends and teachers.

My last day living in India came much sooner than I had expected. Our house was completely empty, baring our suitcases and some furniture we were going to leave behind. Our flight was taking off in the night, so that gave us only a day to bid farewell to our familiar home and friends. The hardest part for me was leaving my nanny. She had been with me for nearly 12 years and unfortunately, she would be leaving us to go back to her home. I knew, in the back of my mind, that I would not be seeing her for a very, very long time.  I was unhappy, obviously, about leaving and it did make me cry one and many times. But the thought of living in the US, a place I have always wanted to go and the thought of adventure that was in store for me entirely outweighed the bad parts.