Miles apart

Kareem Shoukih ‘20’s experiences at various schools in different countries are almost as different as they are distant.

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Miles apart

Kareem Shoukih '20 poses for a photo in the West High courtyard on May 6, 2019.

Kareem Shoukih '20 poses for a photo in the West High courtyard on May 6, 2019.

Mohammedhilal Al-ani

Kareem Shoukih '20 poses for a photo in the West High courtyard on May 6, 2019.

Mohammedhilal Al-ani

Mohammedhilal Al-ani

Kareem Shoukih '20 poses for a photo in the West High courtyard on May 6, 2019.

Moving to a new school is difficult. Even if a student only moves to the next district over, they must struggle to adapt to a new culture, all new faces, and a completely different setting. But when Kareem Shoukih ‘20 moved over 7,000 miles from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Iowa City, Iowa, those differences were magnified immensely.

The son of Syrian immigrants, Shoukih is no stranger to moving frequently, and often incredible distances. He spent the first five years of his life in Des Moines, Iowa. Then, in 2008, Shoukih moved for a short time to Saudi Arabia and then promptly to the UAE for his father’s job as a pediatrician. Once in the UAE, Shoukih enrolled in the Al Najah primary school. For a young Shoukih, assimilating in the new climate was a difficult task.

“I cried so much, when I moved into new schools,” Shoukih recounted. “It was only recently that I liked coming to a new school, coming to West High.”

Although Al Najah was a diverse school, Shoukih was the only student from a Western background.

“In Al Najah, there were more Syrians, Egyptians, but not any westerners at all. It was more like Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, people from that region,” said Shoukih.

Although Shoukih struggled to relate to the other students from around the Arab world, his background in the United States helped him academically.

“When I had first entered the Al Najah they made me take the admissions test and they realized I knew English, so they moved me up a grade,” said Shoukih.

Shoukih didn’t stay long at Al Najah, as he moved to the American International School in Abu Dhabi (AISA) for third grade. The transition from Al Najah to AISA was even greater than from America to the UAE. The UAE is a very diverse country, with local Emiratis only making up roughly ten percent of the population. Going to school with local Emiratis gave Shoukih a greater perspective into the realities of the racial inequality there.

“You see, in America, there’s a racism problem, but there it’s ten times worse,” said Shoukih. “The reason it’s really bad is because in the UAE there are really rich locals who are literally untouchable because they could easily deport you from the country.”

Hanging out with some of the local Emiratis quickly strayed Shoukih away from his studies, but he rarely, if ever, faced consequences.

Anytime I was with locals it got really really bad because the school couldn’t do anything. I would free-roam a lot and I think I got called to my parents once, out of all the times we did stuff”

— Kareem Shoukih '20

Shoukih recalled that he would often skip class with a band of fellow classmates to create havoc for the rest of the school.

“Anytime I was with locals it got really really bad because the school couldn’t do anything. I would free-roam a lot and I think I got called to my parents once, out of all the times we did stuff,” said Shoukih.

When moved from the UAE to West High for his freshman year of high school, his whole approach towards school shifted.

“Here, when you do well in school it’s actually kind of appreciated. Students encourage you, teachers encourage you. In the UAE, there was no student encouragement grade-wise, almost zero,” said Shoukih.

Since starting at West, Shoukih ceased the delinquent actions of his youth and has excelled academically, maintaining a 4.0 GPA thus far in high school.

If you don’t know [Shoukih] closely, he seems like a nerd because he is always participating in class or asking highly intellectual questions.”

— Raymond Yang '20

According to classmate Raymond Yang ‘20, “If you don’t know [Shoukih] closely, he seems like a nerd because he is always participating in class or asking highly intellectual questions.”

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