When Alnairouz “Nairouz” K. first arrived in America to study biotechnology and genetics at West Virginia State University, the transition was hard. Her family remained behind in Syria, and Nairouz struggled to adapt. “When I came here, everyone spoke English with a different accent, and they spoke very fast,” she says. But instead of letting her outsider status overwhelm her, she thought, “Let this make me stronger. I am going to learn their accent, and I am going to make myself just like an American.” She worked hard, and perfected her West Virginia accent. “Some people don’t think that I am from outside the United States,” Nairouz says. “They think I’m from a different state or something!”
Nairouz’s drive to succeed isn’t unusual for new immigrants. A 2008 study by the Manhattan Institute found that recent immigrants are assimilating into American society faster than those of previous generations. “The report found that the speed with which new arrivals take on native-born traits has increased since the 1990s,” reported The Washington Post.
Let this make me stronger. I am going to learn their accent, and I am going to make myself just like an American.
Nairouz graduated with honors, and is currently enrolled in a master’s degree program. She intends to work in cancer research, an area that captivates her. “Working in labs is my home,” she says. “I find myself when I’m working in science. I’d be so happy to find a job in science, in cancer biology, stuff close to that.” Given that the United States is projected to face a shortage of one million STEM workers by 2022, highly skilled, young immigrants like Nairouz represent a critical part of the American economy. Foreign-born students earn 33 percent of all graduate-level STEM degrees in America. Yet for most foreign students, a dysfunctional visa system prevents them from staying in the country to fill vacant STEM positions after graduation.
Fortunately, Nairouz is now a U.S. citizen. She recently married another immigrant, a German businessman who is awaiting permission to work in the United States. The couple plans to remain in America, which is bittersweet for Nairouz. She hasn’t seen her family in Syria for five years, and she constantly worries about their safety. Their town faces constant shortages of food, water, and electricity, and violence has destroyed the local airport. To make matters worse, she fears U.S. policy will succeed in shutting Syrians out of the United States. Nairouz’s mother, for example, wasn’t permitted to enter for her daughter’s college graduation.
“People that live in Syria or other countries with war didn’t choose to live there, they were born there,” Nairouz says. “They didn’t choose to have the war. I understand that there is a concern about terrorists, but closing the doors won’t solve the problem. [Terrorism] isn’t related to religion, it isn’t related to a culture, and it isn’t related to a country. I would love to see the humanity that we grew up with reflected more; we should care about each other, and we should want to help each other.”