Coming to America (twice)

My 17,000-mile odyssey to become a Hawk.

A photo of Basem Zreiqat, the author of the article
I arrived on campus at 1 a.m. on a cold morning in January 1980—a 20-year-old freshman from Amman, Jordan. Hours earlier I had landed at JFK, and after two bus rides and a taxi, I was knocking on the door of Cedar Hall. A senior let me in and showed me to my room. He wished me good luck and said goodnight. The semester hadn’t started and the dorm was eerily quiet, but I knew I would fall asleep quickly.

The next day I was so homesick that I called my brother in California and told him I was going home. Using the money that was supposed to last me through the first semester, I took a taxi back to JFK and bought a plane ticket to Jordan. I didn’t realize then how crazy my actions were. I didn’t come from a rich family; my parents had borrowed money from relatives to fly me to the U.S. But I didn’t care. All I could think of was going home.

I stayed in Amman for two days. Then I went to the American embassy and applied for another visa to go back to Monmouth. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

I arrived back at Cedar Hall and knocked on the door at almost the same crazy hour as before. The same senior who had greeted me came running out, asking where I had been. I hadn’t told anyone I was leaving, so he thought I was lost. When I explained what had happened, he didn’t believe me.

Given a second chance, I worked hard to succeed—both for myself and to make my family proud. I made so many friends in my time at Monmouth. I took classes in beautiful Wilson Hall and saw Annie filmed there. I learned to program in PL/1 on a keypunch machine, and remember walking across the hall to hand my cards to the operator in the computer room, who ran them through the reader. As a member of the International Club, I helped run our annual parties on campus, which featured authentic food, colorful costumes, music, singing, and dancing. I also worked part time at the famous Rhapsody in Blue restaurant in Long Branch, where the owner, Yvonne, would introduce me to customers as “Base, the young man from ‘Jordanie.’”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, I went back to Jordan for six years. In 1990, I moved to Australia and took a job as a PL/1 programmer for an American bank in Sydney. I’m still there 27 years later; these days my responsibilities include managing the Asia Pacific region projects.

My experience as an international student at Monmouth was rich and inspirational, both academically and culturally. I had great professors and received tremendous support from them throughout my studies. I am where I am now because of Monmouth, and for that I will forever be grateful and proud to be a Monmouth alumnus.

Share your Monmouth experience! Email us at magazine@monmouth.edu or write us at My Monmouth, Monmouth magazine, Alumni House, 400 Cedar Ave., West Long Branch, NJ 07764.
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