Girl Interrupted

A Local Syrian Student is Derailed by War

"I see a lot of parallels in America to Syria right now."

By Pam Daniel February 15, 2017 Published in the March 2017 issue of Sarasota Magazine

New college student syria mpodae

Racha Masara

Image: Evan Sigmund

In August 2014, Racha Masara, a bright, lively 18-year-old from Syria with a love for film and dance, enrolled at New College on a full scholarship. We spoke to her shortly after President Trump imposed a travel ban affecting Syria and six other Middle Eastern countries.

“I dropped out of New College today. It’s impossible to focus on school. I see a lot of parallels in America to Syria right now. Just like in Syria, the TV is always on; I’ve been watching the news nonstop. And the ‘alternative facts.’ Americans are shifting from trusting to not trusting the government. It feels familiar.”

“I’m from the city of Latakiyah. My father is a neurosurgeon and my mom’s a pediatrician. I’m their only child. We’re Catholic, but we were never persecuted; Christians and Muslims got along. I grew up reading American books, and [after war broke out] I decided I wanted to go to school in America. The U.S. Department of State had an international student outreach program and they helped me.”

“America was exactly what I thought it would be, and New College is great, with amazing professors and such a feeling of community and support. My first year, I went to classes, I went to parties, I got involved in student government.”

“I went home that first summer. Everyone was either miserable or fleeing the country to escape being drafted or accused of being in the opposition. War doesn’t just affect the news and travel. It affects your relationships, your daily habits. It’s everything.”

“In December of 2015, someone I’m close to was arrested in Syria. I felt such despair—I just went down a hole. I didn’t write one of my final papers—it was one of my favorite courses, too. The idea of writing a paper when all this was going on—I couldn’t do it. So my academic contract wasn’t fulfilled and I lost my scholarship, which meant I was automatically withdrawn, so I lost my visa.”

“In the spring of 2016 I lived on my friend’s couch for four months and applied for asylum. Then I was readmitted to New College. I was doing OK, but during the election, hearing a presidential candidate accuse me and my entire country of being terrorists was horrible. I didn’t go outside or go to classes for two days after the election. As an asylum applicant, I am allowed to be here, but now if I leave they won’t let me back in. Last week, my parents were doing the paperwork for a visa to visit me; now they can’t come.”

“I’m sad and angry but I’m encouraged by all the people going to the airports, all the opposition. I want to be involved, to stand up. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo tells Gandalf that he wishes he were living in some other time. ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’”

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