PINELLAS PARK (FOX 13) - There was a time when the halls of Pinellas Park High School were brutal for Ibrahim Haddat. "My first year was really hard," he said, "It's a new language I never thought about learning.”
But after a couple of years, the Iraqi-born teenager finally found his stride.
He'd left what seemed like a relatively idyllic life in his hometown in northern Iraq. It’s not the war torn town you'd imagine. "Malls everywhere," he said, smiling, "places, parks. That's the north."
Then turning more somber, he said, "The capital, not so much."
His parents wanted more for their two sons and daughter in America. Ibrahim knew a little English from a class in junior high, but not much.
It was hard enough to learn the language, much less navigating the high school social scene. But Ibrahim had family.
"I feel like if it was only me and my brother, if my dad had sent only us, we would break down right now, But the fact that all my family, all of us came at once, made all of us strong, especially the first two years," he told FOX 13.
All of them had to adjust to a new culture. Ibrahim was making friends, but he struggled.
In school, it was mostly Ds and Fs his freshman, sophomore and junior year. But he came back strong,
finally making his way to honor roll by the time his senior year rolled around.
Ibrahim says, smiling, "Yes, I'm proud of that."
These days, life in America is fun. It wasn't his choice, but from a world away-- he'd always seen this as a land of opportunity. And he is taking every opportunity he can, but still stays true to his Arabic roots.
"We always speak Arabic at home. My parents don't want me to forget. Even if I throw in a little English word in there, they're like ‘what did you say?’" he laughed.
But Ibrahim is open to the ideas of the western world. He’s excited and proud to finally be finding his stride— And he's not stopping. He's heading to St. Petersburg College in the fall, where he’ll be studying to become an engineer.
Ibrahim says he's always been good at math— and that's a language universally understood.