The Alsaadis arrived in the U.S. in August 2016, five months before Trump’s initial refugee ban. Like all refugees, they were told what city they’d be moving to and given a loan for their travel expenses to the U.S., as well as funding to cover a deposit and a month’s rent. The sparsely furnished three-bedroom apartment the Alsaadis now rent in a housing complex bears little resemblance to the two-story townhouse they left behind in Syria. The house in Damascus was full of furniture and family mementos, and Yaman was surrounded by neighbors he’d known since he was a child. In Des Moines, he barely knows anyone in his building.
Their living situation is just one of many changes for the family.
As for most refugees, the language barrier has been the hardest adjustment. Yaman’s father had been a lawyer in Damascus, but his limited English has made it difficult to find a job in America. Yaman himself initially struggled to have conversations even though he had studied English in Syria. Now, more than a year of practicing with friends has helped him become fluent.
“Once you learn the language, the rest of the adjustment is a lot easier,” he says.
His first Iowa winter, a harsh introduction to snow and bitter cold, made him miss Syria’s warmth, but he’s acclimating to his life in other ways. He spends his free time going to the gym or playing soccer with new American friends. He’s also worked part-time as a cashier at Walmart and packing cakes in boxes at the Cheesecake Factory, which helped him develop a taste for classic American dishes.
“Pancakes are really, really good,” he says.
But adjusting to the routines of American life can be tough. Before arriving in the U.S., many refugee children spend years attending makeshift schools in camps or go long stretches without any schooling at all. This can make it hard to catch up once they’re resettled.
That’s what 17-year-old Yasameen Muhammed, who now lives in Houston, Texas, is struggling with. Yasameen is from a small city in northern Syria. Her family fled in 2012. To escape food shortages and bands of thieves that terrorized their neighborhood, Yasameen, her mother, brother, and five sisters walked for 15 hours from Syria to Iraq, where they spent three years living in a refugee camp before coming to the U.S. The camp lacked many basic facilities, including a decent school.