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Iraqi Refugee Helps Other Newcomers Settle in Lincoln

Maysoon Shaheen
Doctoral Student and Ambassador for Local Arabic Community

Maysoon Shaheen fled Iraq in 1998 during Saddam Hussein’s regime, a move that likely saved her life. In order to receive her bachelor’s in education, Shaheen was required to sign a form saying she supported Saddam. She refused and escaped to Jordan. “I couldn’t receive my diploma or any paperwork proving I’d earned my degree, but we had to leave the country just to feel safe,” she said.

During her two and a half years in a refugee camp, Shaheen met her husband, a former math teacher from Iraq. They married a few days before they left for America as refugees. But the transition wasn’t easy. Shaheen had left behind family, friends, culture and language – and each day presented new challenges. Her husband found work as a machine operator at a mail sorting center. Catholic Services connected her to a job agency, but they didn’t have placements for anyone with a higher education. Instead, Shaheen worked at the same mail sorting center as her husband. But through volunteering to translate for friends at their doctor appointments, she was hired as a medical interpreter a year later. She returned to school, graduating from University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2017 with a master’s in ESL teaching.

Today, Shaheen works as an interpreter at the local company LanguageLinc, teaches ESL online through Southeast Community College, and is a doctoral student of education at Doane University. She often advises immigrant women with higher education degrees from their home countries on how to navigate the American job market. “I want them to feel confident in their educational journeys,” she says. “Once a woman decides to start this journey, nothing can stop her.”

Over the years, she’s seen Lincoln offer more services to newcomers. She’s particularly impressed with a program called My City Academy, which is run by the City of Lincoln Commission on Human Rights and teaches immigrants how to utilize local government services. Through the program, she became an ambassador for her local Arabic community, connecting people with education, job assistance and healthcare.

We had to do everything ourselves when we arrived. I only wish we had this back then.

Maysoon Shaheen

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…