Michael Micheal couldn’t help but cry when he learned he would become a U.S. citizen.
It was Wednesday, Feb. 10, nearly 12 years since the third-year doctoral student in the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine said goodbye to his parents and brother in Egypt and first set foot on American soil alone as a teenager.
“I am not an emotional guy, but I just lost it when the immigration officer told me I would be taking the citizenship oath,” Micheal said. “For years I didn’t know what was going to happen to me, so at that moment I just felt like I could finally finish that chapter and move on. It gave me a sense of security and a sense of comfort – I could actually breathe.”
Micheal had prepared for every possibility as he headed to Spokane for his citizenship test and interview.
He was ready for the worst because just two years earlier his application for citizenship had been rejected due to an error in his paperwork. He never considered he would return to Pullman as an American citizen.
A chance at a better life
On July 31, 2009, Micheal said goodbye to his family in Cairo and boarded a plane for the United States. He was 16 years old, and although he had never flown, he traveled more than 10,000 miles to live with his aunt in California and a chance at a better life and educational opportunities.
Micheal had his sights set on pursuing a career in human health care, but after volunteering at a veterinary clinic in Long Beach as a high school senior, he found his true calling.
“It was an instant aha moment, that this is what I am going to do the rest of my life,” he said.
For his parents, it could not have been a surprise. How many times had he gone to the market only to return with a duckling, rabbit, or some other critter he intended to save? How many stray dogs and cats had “followed” him home?
“My parents wouldn’t let us keep them, but that didn’t stop me,” Micheal said. “If my mom would let them go, I would just bring them back home with me.”
A career in veterinary medicine, though, never seemed like an option.
“Veterinary medicine is not really a prestigious thing in Egypt,” he said. “I still have family members who ask me on the phone, ‘Don’t you want to be a real doctor?’ So that’s how people view it back home.”
A gut feeling about WSU
Micheal excelled in his undergraduate studies at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and had narrowed the list of veterinary schools he was considering to three – WSU, The Ohio State University, and Michigan State University. He picked WSU on a “gut feeling.”
It turned out to be a great decision. Since arriving in Pullman, Michael has made many new friends and found strong mentors like large animal experts Drs. George Barrington and Jenifer Gold at the College of Veterinary Medicine.
“Dr. Barrington is somebody I really admire a lot, someone I want to be like someday,” Micheal said. “And Dr. Gold, she reminds me of my mom. She is just really warm and loving. They are just great mentors.”
In his first year at WSU, Micheal applied for citizenship but his application was denied in the fall of 2018. That denial was still very much in Micheal’s mind as he arrived in Spokane for a second attempt.
“I was definitely nervous going into it, but thankfully the officer that interviewed me was really calming,” Micheal said, adding he breezed through his interview and civics and English tests. “My expectation was it would end there, but then he asked me to step outside for five minutes so he could prepare for me to take the oath and to swear me in. I had to ask him to repeat what he was saying.”
As Micheal left the office – now an American citizen – he could barely contain himself. He immediately called his mother.
“She just cried for like half an hour. She wanted every detail,” Micheal said.
Dreams for the future
Micheal has only seen his mother in person twice since leaving Egypt, and his only interactions with his father and brother have been on the phone or online. His family has not been able to share in many of his important milestones, but he hopes that changes next spring when he is awarded his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.
“I haven’t seen my dad or brother going on 12 years now,” he said. “I miss my family a lot – it is just hard. Even with the video chat, it is like a band-aid.”
While Micheal has no concrete plans for his future after graduation – and he has not settled on whether he will focus on large or small animals – he dreams of one day returning home.
“When I have a chance to go back to Egypt,” he said, “I want to be able to use the skills I acquired here to help people and care for animals there.”