From the Pyramids to the Arch: freshman Alia Hammad’s move to St. Louis


Courtsey of Mohamed Hammad

On a trip to Hurghada, Egypt, freshman Alia Hammad and her cousin Omar parachute over the Red Sea. This adventure took place in July 2019, about four months before her big move. “I loved it. I saw the purple jellyfish and coral [because] the water was so clear.” Hammad said.

Cramped at the Cairo outlet mall, almost unable to breathe in the stuffy air and trying to find her friends over the crowd of people, freshman Alia Hammad recalls life as she knew it before coming to America. The bustling streets of Cairo, Egypt were home to Hammad until her family arrived in the suburbs of St. Louis for her father’s job when Alia was in eighth grade.

“I was very excited to try something new, but when everything started getting absolutely real, like going to school [and] being in our [new] home, we were like ‘whoa, what is happening right now,’” Hammad said.

After attending the same school in Egypt for her whole life, Hammad started her first day of school in America in early October.

“I was not even concentrating on who was talking to me. I can’t even tell you who was the first person I talked to or who were the people I met first because I was just concentrating on where my classes were,” Hammad said.

In Egypt, Hammad attended a private school and found it to be more challenging.

“There are some [subjects] that we’re taking, like algebra, I took in grade 6. I don’t think that was a good thing, it was more stressful for me. Some lessons were hard for me to learn at a young age. It’s much better for me here. It’s a stereotype that school is very hard here, but I figured out it’s way easier here than I thought.” Hammad said.

When Hammad came to America, she realized she had limited experience with some subjects taught here.

“I think that the hardest subject is history. It’s kind of related to the things we took [last] year, [but] my first U.S. history [class] was last year. [In Egypt] we used to [learn] some American history but concentrated more on Egypt’s. When I came here I had a shock, like, ‘oh my god, I have no idea what they’re talking about.’ Both my teachers that I have this year and last year helped me through the whole thing, which made it easier for me,” Hammad said.

Prior to going to school in the U.S., Hammad was nervous because of what she saw in the movies.

“I found that people here are friendly. Before I came, I thought “I’ll get bullied like I see in the movies.’ There’s [always] that new girl in school, she always gets bullied in all these teen movies in high school or late middle school. I saw myself in these people and [thought] ‘what will I do when [I’m in] their place?’ [I was] pretty sure that [was] going to happen to me, [but] when I came here, since the [moment] I entered in school, everyone was super friendly.” Hammad said.

Hammad found it difficult to adjust to the nightlife in St. Louis. In Cairo, businesses close around 1 a.m., while here they close around 9 p.m.

“It was [shocking] that people here are active in the morning. Egypt has a huge, amazing nightlife that’s not here. The first night [my family and I] came, everything was so dark and quiet, with so [many] trees. I’m trying to improve my sleeping habits, but it’s hard,” Hammad said.

Now, Hammad spends her time doing more simple activities here in St. Louis, a city eight hours behind her hometown of Cairo.

“It was hard to adjust, I’ve had the same lifestyle my whole life. I try to fill the nighttime with cooking new recipes or watching movies, but it’s pretty different. When an event happens [in Egypt] it’s exciting and I want to be there and join [my friends]. It’s not always easy to communicate with them. It doesn’t feel good, but I understand it’s not our choice. They tell me what happened later on, we always figure it out.” Hammad said.

Hammad has encountered many false assumptions and stereotypes about Egypt.

“A lot of people think Egypt is a very old country that doesn’t have new things. Most people think that we go to school by a camel and that’s not true,” Hammad said. “I’ve never ridden a camel before. A lot of people think that Egypt doesn’t really have that much good stuff. That’s not true. Some people feel sad that people think of their country [as these stereotypes], but I don’t feel like that because I show them videos about Egypt and show them that it’s new and up to date.” Hammad said. 

The place in Egypt that Hammad misses most is the North Shore. Hammad and her family spent many summers there.

“We have a house there and [all] of our family [has] a house so we’re like a huge family there. I miss the family gatherings, we’d stay at the beach till 8 or 9 p.m. I miss the North Shore, even when I’m in [Cairo].” Hammad said. 

Hammad’s trip to her home country got delayed in March due to COVID-19. However, she and her family returned for a visit this past August, which included a trip back to the North Shore. 

“[I remember] just waking up in the morning, opening up the windows, and then planning what to wear for the day. Then walking to the beach and going to each of my friend’s houses [and] gathering with each other,” Hammad said. “We suddenly found ourselves with 20 people. We [didn’t] even know who these people [were]. [I] got to know these people. I got extremely close with them. I felt super sad going back to Cairo after the North Shore because these people became an important part of my day after [seeing] them for a whole month.”

Because of her permanent move to America, Hammad has learned to be happy wherever she calls home.

“[On my trip back to Egypt] I didn’t really feel sad that I’m leaving the United States but happy that I’m going back to Egypt. It’s a mixed feeling. At this point, it’s okay for me to stay [both places], to stay in America [or] Egypt. Egypt is still my home because I still spend a lot of time there and because all my memories [that were] made there, but I feel like America is my second home,” Hammad said.

After her move, Hammad believes her relationships and support system were only strengthened.

“My family is supporting me, we’re all supporting each other,” Hammad said. “Whenever I’m [missing Egypt] they [explain] how everything will pass and that we will get to visit again. We’ve always been very close, but [now] we see each other even more. Our bond has gotten stronger and stronger.”