Iraqi adjusts to life in Iowa

By B.A. Moreill, The Press-Citizen

If there was ever a contest for a confluence of major life events, Sabah Hassain Enayah might take the prize.

In August, Enayah, 31, moved her young family from Iraq to a new home in a new country with only a minimal handle on the language. Within 10 days, she gave birth by Cesarean section to her third child, and four days later was in class at the University of Iowa.

“In our culture, you have your mother, your sister, your grandmother, your husband’s mother and sister and grandmother. They all come to help,” said Enayah, who is from Thi-Qar, Iraq. “Here, I don’t have anyone but my husband. I thought it would be difficult to live alone, but we acclimated.”

Enayah is one of nine Iraqi students, and the only female, studying at UI in the pilot year of the Iraq Education Initiative. The initiative aims to place thousands of Iraqi students into universities in the U.S. and England over the next five years. More than 500 participated in this first year.

The can-do spirit has served Enayah and her family well as they near the end of their first-year living in the U.S.

“She had her baby on Thursday and was back in class on Monday. This shows how determined she is to succeed here,” said Scott King, the director of the UI International Student & Scholar Services, who was a key player to bringing the initiative to Iowa.

The project meets UI’s mission of adding a more global presence to campus and add cultural diversity.

“I am very impressed with her and her husband as well. They are both are so committed to her getting a degree and getting back to a better life in Iraq,” King said.

Enayah’s boys Mohaemn, 6, and Moaml, 5, are adapting to the American education system as students at Roosevelt Elementary. Her husband, who holds a doctoral degree and serves as the dean of a college in Iraq, put his career aside to care for the children while his wife is in school, not a traditional male role in many countries, particularly Iraq, King said.

“At first, I thought I won’t feel comfortable here. People would bother me because I wear a veil, but when I got here I find people are friendly, kind. They like to help.” — Sabah Hassain Enayah

The family moved from a large home in Iraq to a cramped apartment in Iowa City in August. They have had to learn a new language, a new city and a new way of life.

When Enayah applied to participate in the initiative, she knew there would be challenges, but the experience, so far, has been worth it.

She wanted to expose her children to a new culture and that has happened. The children can speak English, which will propel them toward a stronger education in the future, she said. Her family has experienced the American favorite, Chuck E. Cheese, had a traditional Thanksgiving at King’s home, dressed up for Halloween and this weekend held her son’s birthday party at the Mercer Park Aquatic Center.

All the time, they are making new friends and learning more about their new home, she said.

Enayah wears a veil, does not shake hands and her country is in the middle of a war with the U.S. These are some of the reasons she was concerned how she and her family would be treated in the U.S.

“At first, I thought I won’t feel comfortable here. People would bother me because I wear a veil, but when I got here I find people are friendly, kind. They like to help,” she said. “You don’t have strong (confrontational) culture here. You have nice and smooth and anyone can come and live here.”

“I am very impressed with her and her husband as well. They are both are so committed to her getting a degree and getting back to a better life in Iraq.”
– Scott King

Still, there are some hurdles, such as the language barrier and diet restriction, the closest Mosque is a lengthy drive and she is unable to pray at traditional times.

Enayah is in the process of completing an intensive English Language Program before enrolling in a six-year doctoral program in biology. Day-to-day life is packed. She is in class all day and then returns home to prepare a meal for her family, she said.

Over the next six years, Enayah does not expect to return home. The $10,000 trip is too much for her family to affor, and likely is not a bill her government will pick up. Her plan is to focus on her studies and then return as a scholar to improve the education system in Iraq.

When asked if she missed home, Enayah said, “a little bit,” but she said, as though instructing herself, she will not allow herself to be homesick.

“I have a big family back home. I miss my family, but I will complete my goals here and then come back. And, no homesickness,” she said.

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