Ivana Younan (Syria)
"On June 5, 1998, the comfortable and secure world I was living in changed drastically. On that day, the two people who you expect will be available to you for life were pulled from me, and I was forced to launch the rest of my life without my parents. This unexpected death reshaped my life entirely. The subsequent months were filled with the attempt of normalizing a life that had just been dismantled. Ask any survivor of a catastrophe, and they will say that in the moment, you just do what you must to survive. But because I was six, survival looked much different for me. Time and distance offer perspective. I now have the maturity of awareness to know that many people stepped in to fill the tremendous void that was left that day. In God’s providence, my family, without knowing what they would be called upon to do for the rest of their lives, quickly and seamlessly readjusted their own lives, dreams, and future to become the new stabilizing forces in my life. Growing up, I purposefully veered away from my Middle Eastern culture. It was not until I came to UCLA that I began to explore the core of my identity as an Arab woman. I joined the United Arab Society, and eventually became Vice President of the organization. I enrolled in a year of Arabic courses, which taught me how to formally speak, read, and write my native language. Lastly, and most importantly, I joined a passionate group of Arab women in starting the first Arab sorority in the nation—the Empowered Arab Sisterhood. To be part of a group of women who shares my culture, and encourages me to embrace it with open arms, has allowed me to fully discover my identity. My world looks very different than that of my peers. Nonetheless, being surrounded by my newfound sisters has facilitated in establishing a new “normal” for myself, which has given me eyes to see, understand, and empathize with others. I have learned to live contentedly and joyfully because of my circumstances rather than in spite of them."