Understanding Asylum

Ahlswede Collection
2 min readOct 25, 2022


Today a student sat at a four-person table in the center of class by himself while I handed out the day’s worksheet that was due at the end of the period.

While I walk around passing out papers I feel an unfamiliar tug on my sleeve that doesn’t normally happen in class.

I turn quickly toward the tug. I’m ready to serve a stern, ”what are you thinking?”

There sits a young man. His face isn’t sly or tricky. It’s eager and earnest. He has his smartphone in his hand despite my writing “No Cell Phones” on the whiteboard ten minutes earlier. Before I can question him he begins to type on his translator app in Arabic.

“I am new to America. I do not speak English.”

Other students blurt for help, so I make eye contact with the young man, nod my head, hold up my index finger, and say, “OK, I’ll be right back.”

He doesn’t understand “OK,” and he doesn’t know what an index finger implies, because physical communication is a foreign language, too.

There was also something I didn’t know. I found out because I sat down with him and showed interest in how his life took him to that seat this morning.

He typed on his Arabic keyboard.

“I am from Syria.”

I type into my phone, “why are you in Chico?”

I would normally ask, “what brought you to Chico,” but finding effective translation is a crude process. You speak in simple terms. Bluntness over nuance.

“We fled the war,” he typed.

That was blunt.

I go on to tell him my name, and that when I’m on campus I can help him with anything he needs. He was very grateful.

It’s safe to say he’s being raised right.



Ahlswede Collection

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