Zoom at home for me

Omar Mettwely

I felt confused.

My dad told me in April 2018, “ We are going to leave this country, and I’ll let you choose from the available options. The decision is yours. Your choice will determine your future. The U.S. or Egypt.” He wanted to have my vote, not snatch it from me.

As I was going to sleep that night in my humble Riyadh home in Saudi Arabia’s capital, my father called me and my brothers to the dinner table while he was drinking coffee to give us the opportunity to choose our paths. At the time, my older brother, 17, and my younger two, 11 and 9, respectively, chose the U.S. I chose Saudi Arabia, making the count 3-1, America.

I disagreed with my siblings because I had some doubts about that path of future and with its risks. “I don’t have much faith in Egypt because as a country it is based solely on nepotism,” my older brother said. My parents and other siblings sided with my older brother because they had the same perspective. 

Why would we do this, I thought. Will we succeed in the U.S.? 

At the time, I was in ninth grade at Qimam El-Hayat school in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It was a private school with a tuition fee of 12,500 riyals per year, which is $3,332.79 USD.

The schedule of the school consists of eight- 45 minutes- periods per day, where some electives were neglected, and mandatory subjects were prioritized. Every day was a mix of 8 of the 12 subjects. The system involved the same subjects across the whole 4 years of high school but with different chapters and difficulty levels.

I didn’t have to study much because tests literally came from a review sheet that was handed to students, and I expected the American school structure to be similar to high school movies such as “The DUFF.” I contacted some others who experienced it, and they gave me an understanding of the system which lowered my expectations.

When we moved to Houston in 2018, I attended an online school, Virtual High School, based in Ontario, Canada, for the first semester of 10th grade, as recommended from a friend, because I wanted to experience and compare the unique attributes of an online school to a regular high school.

Virtual High School offered a system in which students take credits at their own pace with the limit of 18 months for the course to close. However, by the end of the first semester, I hated the virtual school because the teaching methods could mislead students, who mostly depended on themselves to comprehend the lessons.

With a semester remaining, I switched to James E. Taylor High School in the second part of my sophomore year to attend a physical school.

After the summer break, I continued attending James E. Taylor for my junior year and found it to be fairly easy. When we moved online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it started to look complicated with upcoming work and ungraded assignments that created further stress despite the reduced amount of work.

After I finished 11th grade, my family considered moving to California mainly because we wanted to try a different special education system for my second youngest brother.

My mom wanted to stay in Texas, but my youngest brother and I wanted to move to California because Texas’s irritating hot weather made breathing a struggle. On the other hand, California has more sustainable weather.

Then, we moved to Fullerton on June 9,2020, as one of the safest options, and I came to Sunny Hills as a senior because of the school’s high rating. I expected the school to start off with distance learning, and I knew I wouldn’t get many physical interactions with classmates and teachers. I assumed the culture in California would be similar to Texas, and I didn’t have school expectations from movies.

Since we started the school year in full distance learning, it was easier for me to stay in Cohort C for the rest of the year. But when I visited campus to get my textbooks, the first difference I noticed was the open hallways here compared to my high school in Texas and its enclosed hallways.

Now that I’ve moved schools three times, I’m confident because that decision to change schools improved my adaptive skills and redefined who I am.

I don’t regret staying at Cohort C because my grades improved. I doubt if I returned I would have the same result. The online experience in Sunny Hills definitely succeeded in delivering a convenient system for me to pass my classes.

Although I couldn’t make friends this year, I am satisfied with the outcome. I know that I might change states in the future, and having few friends is the consequence of switching locations.