As a child, Enas Moses loved school – but all too soon, had to leave it behind.
She grew up in Basra in southern Iraq and particularly loved math. When she was only 14 years old, however, life took a dramatic turn: her father died, forcing Enas to quit middle school and enter the workforce to support her family.
Her journey to pursue education has spanned years, continents and even different languages. Now a SUNY Broome student who tutors her peers in multiple subjects, she is sometimes struck with how her classmates regard education – not as a life-changing gift worthy of effort and sacrifice, but simply another task to accomplish.
“I started working and as the years passed, I wanted to study,” she reflected. “Sometimes I hear students complain about school, and I think, it’s not hard if you study!”
When Enas was growing up, her culture didn’t encourage students to pursue a college education, due to a lack of job opportunities. For dropouts, the situation is complicated by Iraq’s rather byzantine system for obtaining a general equivalency diploma (GED) – far more difficult than in the United States, with little help available for study or preparation. Depending on when a student leaves school, they may have to earn three different GEDs, for the elementary, middle and high school levels, with a two-year wait between each.
As a teen, she passed her middle school GED exam and then settled in for the two-year wait until she could take the next level.
Then war came.
“When the war came to Iraq, it destroyed everything,” she remembered. “You couldn’t get your diploma. The records were lost. I needed to take the high school GED, but they said I didn’t have proof that I passed the middle school GED. They said maybe I could find it in Bagdad, which was hours away.”
Finding the words
Her dream of an education seemed permanently on hold, but life went on. She operated the family business – a copy shop – with her sister. She met her future husband, became engaged and then married, and moved with him to Lebanon, where he studied theology. They had two daughters and her husband, a Christian minister, landed a job as a pastor in Syria. The family didn’t fit in and eventually emigrated to the United States, starting off in Buffalo in 2009.
At home with two toddlers, Enas struggled with the language, although her husband – who had worked as an interpreter – was fluent. Iraqis do learn English in school, but it’s British English, she explained.
“The American accent is different – short words, quick,” she said.
She began learning the language at home with her children, but it wasn’t enough. Fearing that she would be left behind their new country, her husband recommended that the entire household switch to English. After just two months in the United States, Enas left Arabic behind. Growing up in an English-speaking household, her daughters lost their native tongue.
“It got frustrating and tiring. I wanted to speak, but I didn’t know the words. That motivated me to learn more,” she remembered.
She hired a tutor to master the language and the culture more quickly, and the two became close friends. At the same time, she pursued that long-deferred dream – her GED – and passed everything except for the writing component in 2013. She continued honing her skills, passed the writing test in 2016 and decided on a new goal: a college degree in a STEM field.
“Here, it’s a country of opportunity. Without education, you can’t do a lot,” she said.
Student and tutor
She began at Erie Community College, placing into high-level math, but struggled because she was missing key components of the specialized vocabulary. So she decided to take a step back and focus on the basics, working her way up through algebra and trigonometry, before tackling calculus and differential equations.
When her husband secured a job opportunity in the Binghamton area, the family relocated. Enas spent a semester at SUNY Broome, then transferred to Binghamton University to major in biomedical engineering. She returned to SUNY Broome in Fall 2019 to take the physics and general education courses she needs, with plans to return to BU sometime next year.
“It’s good to start at a community college. It sets you up to succeed,” she said.
A Liberal Arts and Sciences student SUNY Broome, she enjoyed her English class with Professor Virginia Shirley, as well as physics with Professor Glenn Modrak. “He’s very good and his office is always open to you,” she said.
This semester, she is continuing her study of physics, as well as taking courses in astronomy and art. For that last course – entirely online – she has created a series of still life drawings, including a challenging study of structure, light and shadow that features a chair draped in cloth.
SUNY Broome has also given her an unforeseen opportunity: her first paid job in the United States as a tutor in chemistry, math and Arabic. She deeply appreciates the level of responsibility such a position entails; after all, she has been on the other side.
“I have to take it seriously. It’s good to help others because I was in this place before,” she explained.
Enas Moses’ journey to an education has been long and winding, with the occasional detour and dead end — and it’s far from over. Her long-term goals include not only a bachelor’s degree but a Ph.D. in her field – and a future as a researcher, contributing long-term to the health and welfare of all people.
“Education is very important. You have all the opportunities, so why not help others?” she asked.