For some, Exeter is just like home. For others, it’s the opposite–it’s peaceful.
Amr, 16, one of the four Syrian students at Exeter this summer, had few memories of peace until he came to America.
Syria’s fight for freedom began in 2011 after a series of uprisings for democracy. In 2012, the fighting escalated and reached major cities, like Syria’s capital, Damascus, where Amr and his family lived. According to the UN in 2015, the conflict in Syria displaced half of its population, killed at least 250,000 and left over 13.5 million in need of humanitarian aid.
However, before the war, life was different. When Amr was very young, he remembers living a happy, peaceful life in Damascus with his mother and father, uncle, grandparents, and half-brother.
“It was really nice, surprisingly,” he recalls. «The environment was really nice, and life in general was just really good quality. Everyone was happy.”
But Syria didn’t remain peaceful for much longer. The happy place where he was born started disappearing when conflict appeared on television and eventually emerged near Amr’s hometown.
“I was too young to understand the politics, but when the Arab Spring started in other countries, we just watched the news. Before we knew it, Syria had some protests going on, and then a couple weeks later, I saw it [war] in front of my eyes,” he said.
When combat began, he heard a few explosions and occasional gunfire. Although this worried his parents, young Amr and his friends–who loved action movies and loved the thought of living in an action film even more–weren’t fazed yet.
“Me and a bunch of my friends actually weren’t scared. We actually thought it was really cool because we heard a lot of explosions and thought it was like an action movie or something. But obviously, our parents were super worried about us.”
The thrill disappeared quickly as the war progressed and conditions worsened. More explosions flared. More gunshots fired. More places closed. And the government began to ration food and electricity in order to spare resources and maintain military equipment.
“Food supply went down, so did the quality of food. The gas station started running out of gas and started taking it for tanks and airplanes. They’d start organizing how long the electricity would get cut for each area …when I got back from school, a lot of times I had to do my homework under the candlelight. My school also had to move into the middle of the city because the road became too dangerous.”
Because Amr and his mother were in the thick of the conflict with restricted power, food, and electricity, she had always offered him the option to move to the United States, but he refused, not wanting to leave his friends in Syria. However, a frightening event soon changed his mind and made him want to move to America.
“I remember the exact day: May 15th, 2015. My mom was working–and basically I was asleep in my room. I woke up and I was hearing explosions really loud, and the buildings started shaking like crazy.
I looked out the window and saw a giant explosion over the mountain, and we opened up the news right away and it turned out that there was an attack by a foreign country on the military base by our house that shook the entire area.”
Although Amr and his mother would have had no problem accommodating to life in the United States because they had family in Chicago, there was another problem: Amr and his mother couldn’t fly from their nearest airport in Syria because the road to the airport was blocked with fights between the FSA rebels and the Syrian Army.
Because of this, their only option was to fly to the United States from Lebanon. They drove to Lebanon, spent the night in a hotel, and flew to Chicago. His dad, grandparents, and half brother, however, stayed behind.
“Getting out wasn’t really hard for us. So, we were lucky,” he says.
Amr has lived in Chicago with his mother for three years. He misses his friends and rest of his family in Syria, but encourages them to come live with him and his mother and share his new happy, prosperous, and peaceful life in America.
“They want to stay there because they love their home, but we keep telling them to come back. I mean, life here is just amazing because there are a lot of opportunities here. Everything is overall just much, much, much better.”
When asked to tell his favorite part about America, he didn’t hesitate.
“ Freedom. Everyone has the right to do what they want and say what they want.”