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Damascus, Syria, freshmen Amjad Dabi and Andrey Mukasi miss certain aspects of their home, but they are quickly adjusting to American college culture and making the most of their indefinite stay in the U.S.
Dr. Bradley Bolen, lecturer in piano, met Dabi and Mukasi in the summer of 2010 through American Voices, a program that brings American music and culture to “nations emerging from conflict or isolation.” Since then, the three have stayed in contact, and when the civil war escalated, Bolen said he talked to the music department about bringing Dabi and Mukasi to the U.S., where they would be removed from the dangers of war.
After a year of back-and-forth correspondence, Dabi and Mukasi arrived in America in August, at which time they promptly began their American education.
Both music majors, Dabi plays the piano and Mukasi plays the violin. Dabi is a full-time Baylor student while Mukasi is a McLennan Community College student with prospects of transferring to Baylor his junior year.
Both students are dependent on academic and music scholarships.
With smiles, Dabi and Mukasi said the Baylor community has been welcoming and that they have enjoyed their stay in the U.S. so far.
“People have been very friendly and nice,” Dabi said.
Dabi and Mukasi said the education system in Syria is not as flexible as the system in the U.S.
“Most universities in Syria are divided into different programs on different campuses,” Dabi said. “If you study civil engineering, you only study those classes. Here, I take science classes, but I’m a music major. In Syria I wouldn’t be able to do that.”
Dabi and Mukasi said they are thankful to be away from the chaos in Syria, but they miss aspects of living in a big city as well as being close to friends and family.
“I miss the food,” Dabi said, to which Mukasi nodded in agreement. “Stuffed zucchini, hummus, pita bread.”
Mukasi said he noticed Americans do not drink as much tea as Syrians.
“We drink tea five times a day,” Mukasi said.
Despite the disparities between education systems and dietary habits of the U.S. and their home country, Dabi and Mukasi said what alarms them most is how little people know about their home, a place they continue to love regardless of the calamities.
Mukasi said he has encountered many people who only associate Syria with what they see on the news. Dabi said Syria is much more than a war zone.
“Syria is home to the most ancient civilization,” Dabi said. “It’s a mix of so many different cultures. Damascus is the oldest continuously inhabited capital in the world.”
When Dabi and Mukasi watch or read the news on Syria, said they feel frightened for their loved ones.
“The biggest difficulty is being away from family,” Dabi said. “What makes it more difficult is that they’re in danger constantly. That makes the separation harder.”
Dabi and Mukasi have first-hand experience of the violence in Syria.
Mukasi said an explosion once went off two streets away from where they lived.
According to Bolen’s personal blog, a car bomb exploded right outside Dabi’s house and lacerated his face.
Mukasi said he initially objected to leaving Damascus because he did not wish to be separated from his family.
“I didn’t want to leave,” Mukasi said. “I left because my parents wanted me to be safe.”
Dabi and Mukasi said they talk to their families every day via Skype, Facebook and other social media outlets. Leaving their families has not been easy, but Dabi and Mukasi have a father figure of sorts in the U.S.
“I’m kind of like the surrogate dad for them,” Bolen said. “I make sure they’re OK and they make sure I’m OK. They’re always checking up on me and me on them.”
Without kids of his own, Bolen said he values the close relationship he has with Dabi and Mukasi.
If they ever struggle financially, Bolen said he steps in and helps.
Bolen said when he was ill recently, Dabi and Mukasi took care of him.
“I feel responsible for them because I got them here, and I’m not going to let anything happen to them,” Bolen said.
Dabi and Mukasi are doing well in their academics, Bolen said, and they are talented musicians.
“Very quickly, you see that these kids deserve opportunities,” Bolen said. “Baylor can use these kind of students.”