skip to main content
caption: Ahmed Ahmed at his graduation from Tyee High School in 2019. He is now a student at Highline College.
Enlarge Icon
Ahmed Ahmed at his graduation from Tyee High School in 2019. He is now a student at Highline College.
Credit: Courtesy of Ahmed Ahmed

My brother’s move to a new school, from South Africa to SeaTac

The start of a new school year is often met with nervous excitement. With many schools moving to online learning this year, students are adjusting to new learning environments.

I spoke to my brother about his transition from middle school to high school -- and his transition from South Africa to SeaTac.

My brother Ahmed Ahmed grew up in South Africa. His childhood was pretty different than mine. I was used to taking trips to the beach every weekend as a kid in SeaTac, but Ahmed remembers playing rugby in the mud with friends every day after school.

caption: Ahmed Ahmed (right) poses with his father at his 8th grade award ceremony in 2015 in Darul Arqam Islamic High School  in Cape Town, South Africa.
Enlarge Icon
Ahmed Ahmed (right) poses with his father at his 8th grade award ceremony in 2015 in Darul Arqam Islamic High School in Cape Town, South Africa.
Credit: Courtesy of Ahmed Ahmed

When he was fifteen years old, Ahmed moved to the United States with our dad. This was a huge change, especially when it came to school. He found himself in a new world.

“Back home, everything was kind of manual,” Ahmed remembers. “Everything would be done with the hands. Here, the first thing I got handed was a Chromebook laptop. Man, when I got that Chromebook the first time, I was like, 'man, we are using technology over here,' even though I had no idea how to use it.”

That was just the start of the differences between his school in South Africa and his new American school.

“I spoke in an accent that people wouldn’t understand,” he said. “I spoke really fast, and most teachers had a really hard time understanding me. Even in my essay writing, I wrote in a whole different style.”

These differences started to pile up. One day in math class, his teacher taught the order of operations. But it was taught differently than what he had learned in South Africa, and his teacher called it by a different name.

“I had a meltdown,” he says. “I was like, what the hell are they teaching me now? I was so confused.”

Ahmed knew he would learn new things in his American school, but he didn’t realize how much he would need to relearn. He became self-conscious. But after a few years in SeaTac, things started to change.

“I started opening up,” he says, “becoming more confident, less shy. That’s when I started realizing, I actually love talking a lot.”

Ahmed is now a student at Highline College. He wants to become a physical therapist.

“Physical therapy is not just massaging,” he says. “I talk to my patients, help them out, ask them how their life is like. I like knowing how a person is doing. This is the perfect job for me.”

Moving to the states has been Ahmed’s biggest challenge, but he never made it an excuse for him to not pursue his dreams. My brother’s story has taught me that the difficult things in life can make us stronger in the end, and it takes courage to let go of the familiar and embrace the new.

All audio for this story was collected following CDC safety guidelines during Covid-19.

This story was created in KUOW's RadioActive Online Radio Journalism Workshop for 15- to 18-year-olds, with production support from Kenju Waweru. Edited by Mary Heisey.

Find RadioActive on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram, and on the RadioActive podcast.

Support for KUOW's RadioActive comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center.