Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

What Does It Mean to Be an American? ; Residents of Other Countries See Positives of Being American

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

What Does It Mean to Be an American? ; Residents of Other Countries See Positives of Being American

Article excerpt

I returned home to Mercer County in September after serving in the U.S. Peace Corps for two-and-a-half years in Azerbaijan, located between Russia and Iran in the former Soviet Union. I had to learn a new language in order to survive, and to work, live with and relate to people very different form myself.

I had to learn to answer what it means to be an American, to myself and to others. This is a difficult question. We are a country with no official language, religion, ethnicity or custom. We, or our ancestors, came from many different places.

My counterpart, Yusif Aliyev, a 65-year-old English teacher, studied English in the former U.S.S.R. during the Cold War. It was prohibited, but I listened to Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones, I read Jack London ... I always thought America was a free country, he said.

Yusif was fascinated by a nation founded on freedom and our open doors to the best, the brightest, and the bravest and the oppressed and the fearless seeking a better life. This belief in opportunity unites us it makes us American.

Dr. Raghdal Seloul, an endocrinologist from Syria and resident of Charleston, agrees. I came to the U.S. in 1996 for the opportunity of better medical training, she said. I was 26 years old the only woman wearing hijaab practicing medicine in West Virginia. This was difficult. I didnt know English as well as I do now.

In Syria, there is no equal opportunity, and you arent respected as an individual by the government, she said. This was a system I didnt want to live in.

Sehloul says she feels welcomed in West Virginia. She exchanges food with neighbors, her children play sports and she works as a doctor.

One of the few challenges, she says, has been people perceiving Islam as very different from Christianity. I think most people dont understand what being Muslim means. Most dont want to ask because they feel its so different, but they have a lack of knowledge.

Gunel, another Syrian-American and Charleston resident, also left her home in Syria. …

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