First Days In America: Coming to America, Reluctantly

Jun 27, 2017

Rawdhah Al Salihi found a home away from home in IHOP restaurants after fleeing Iraq.
Credit Ruben Kimmelman

As a case manager at the Northern Nevada International Center, Rawdhah Al Salihi uses the experiences of her own journey from Iraq to help newly-arrived refugees and immigrants. She recently spoke to student reporter Ruben Kimmelman for NPR’s Next Generation Radio Program about her first days in America, which included a trip to IHOP. 

Rawdhah Al Salihi was scared to come to the United States. The 49-year-old Iraqi immigrant had seen movies depicting Americans as mean and unpleasant. Some experiences she and others had with U.S. soldiers led to similar conclusions. When death threats forced her to flee her country, Al Salihi was reluctant about making the United States her home.

But all that changed when Al Salihi walked into a Denver IHOP.

“The first day in the United States, was like 9 in the morning, we came here to the IHOP and everybody was welcoming and everybody was, ‘Hi guys how are you doing?’ And, it was wonderful,” Al Salihi said.

Today, many of Al Salihi’s perceptions of the United States have completely changed. As a case manager at the Northern Nevada International Center, Al Salihi uses her experiences from her own journey to help newly arrived refugees and immigrants.

“I encourage them to start all over again,” Al Salihi said.

Al Salihi is from Baghdad, Iraq. She fled in 2006 after receiving a series of death threats, which she believes were a result of her work with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Even though her husband was American, Al Salihi first fled to Sweden, because she was hesitant to come to the U.S.

“You built this knowledge from interaction with the army, so it’s different than when you interact now, with the people, the American people, they are very nice people,” she said.

She initially wondered how friends and family would react to her move, based on their opinions of Americans and U.S. soldiers.

Read the rest of this story here.

This story was produced during the NPR Next Generation Radio program, in partnership with the Reynolds School of Journalism at UNR and Reno Public Radio.