Across the Pond and Back
Virginia has been my home for most of my life. The earliest memories I can recall are from my time in Chesapeake, but those memories are so fragmented that I don’t consider Chesapeake my hometown. For me, it feels as if my life really began when I moved to Virginia Beach.
Originally from Lebanon, my parents immigrated to the United States so that my father could pursue a career in medicine. My family moved to Virginia Beach when I was four-years-old after living in Massachusetts and West Virginia (where I was actually born). As a child, I loved Virginia Beach. I loved the laid-back lifestyle. I loved the ocean. I loved the food. I often forgot that most of the U.S. population doesn’t live near the beach, let alone water. I took it for granted more often than not. We lived in Virginia Beach for over 10 years, and for the longest time, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
Fast-forward to 2012: my parents decided to move the family to Lebanon. My dad had taken a job in Beirut in order to be closer to our relatives. I had visited Lebanon many times, but the idea of living there never occurred to me. At first, I was upset. I was 15-years-old at the time, and at that point in my adolescence, it was hard to come to terms with leaving the city I had grown so fond of. Now I don’t mean to sound cliché, but I felt that life wasn’t going to be the same. It was a change, and change can be intimidating.
Little did I know that moving to Beirut would be one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. A lot of people will argue that there’s no place like their home country or town, but I genuinely believe that there’s no place like Lebanon. Everything about it is unconventional: the culture, the infrastructure, the history — it’s unique. What’s incredible to me is that this tiny Middle Eastern country, with all of the political strife and adversity it has endured throughout the years, has such a profound effect on myself and anyone who has ever been there.
Adapting to a densely populated, rapid-paced city such as Beirut was already a challenge, but I also had to learn Arabic, or at least enough to get around. In the end, I believe that exposure to a city lifestyle made me think more quickly and intuitively than I used to. Honestly, Lebanon completely changed my perception of reality. It made me think outside of what I know.
After I finished high school in Lebanon, my family and I moved back to the United States. My father started a new job in Rhode Island while I moved back to Virginia. I attended Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond (VCU), where I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. I was pretty unfamiliar with Richmond before going to VCU, but after living there for four years, I’ve come to appreciate it. Richmond’s rate of expansion is unlike anything I’ve ever seen for a city of its size. Although I haven’t technically contributed anything to Richmond’s growth, it’s amazing to witness the growth firsthand. Smaller cities are on the rise, and Richmond is no exception.
Living in two different countries has taught me quite a bit about both the world and myself. In a large country such as the U.S., the opportunities are endless. In America, I can be anyone that I want to be. I used to take that for granted, but moving forward, I won’t make that same mistake again. On the other hand, Lebanon taught me to put everything in perspective and to question the status quo constantly. It made me step out of my comfort zone and become more adaptable.
It’s difficult to grow as an individual when you’re comfortable. Get a little uncomfortable, the outcome just might surprise you.
Editor’s note: Want to see how the 2019 Commemoration is surfacing the stories of Virginia’s immigrants and refugees? Visit the New Virginians: 1619-2019 and Beyond exhibition today.