And so I have entered the fast-paced world of the Iraqi Student Project, a world which requires newcomers to spend their first few days simply observing, open-mouthed, the countless wonders that occur daily here in Gabe and Theresa's apartment in Damascus' Afeef neighborhood. Students, teachers, conversation partners, and guest speakers come and go from morning until night, six days a week. I have been, for now, a fly on the wall, simply soaking in a week in the life of ISP, committing names and faces to memory, and listening to a group of 18 – 23-year-old Iraqi refugees discuss everything from socialism, to the pill, to the proper usage of the word 'ubiquitous.' Talk about surprises. What I had thought were a series of seminars intended to help along students' English skills are in fact spaces for intellectual discussions of essay structure, famous literary works, and important medical discoveries, meant to ease the students into the American education system. Far from struggling with the English language, the students toss around words like 'cesspool' and reference India's caste system and American slavery. I can literally feel energy in the air; it fuels the project. Particularly interesting was a 'Literature Circle' conversation last Friday, entirely student-run, about the descent of Baghdad into looting chaos post-2003 as a real-life embodiment of both Dante's descent into the Inferno and Ralph and Jack's descent into savagery in William Golding's Lord of the Flies. “Human beings have certain needs,” said one student, Ziad. “If they don't get these needs, they're going to do something about it. Does that give you a sign as to how a government pleases or doesn't please its society?” Zaid responded: “If a government fails to provide for peoples' needs, you have refugees.” The question of whether or not life goals and dreams loftier than simply eating, sleeping, and reproducing constitute 'needs' caused some contention within the group. Zaid stressed the difference between surviving and living. “Zeinab, why do you live?” asked Ziad (no, not everyone's names begin with 'z'). The group laughed, and then turned serious. “I live for my goals,” she responded. “Now, we are living for the future,” added Ali. “But Iraqis who are still in Iraq are living only for today. They aren't living, they're surviving. We need to do something. There is something wrong in our country.” Immediately multiple voices chimed in: “People are so busy living for tomorrow that they can't see that the country is in ruins!” “The government let them down; it is Jack and Ralph's government...” “That is a clear justification to emigrate right now.” “But you don't need to cross borders. You can be a refugee inside your own country.” I have a feeling that this summer will be about perspective. The wheels turn as I've been helping Tamara and Alaa fill out their U.S. visa applications on the State Department website: so this is what it's like to sit on the other side of the barriers that wrap my country from so much of the world. Questions like "Are you or any member of your family connected to terrorist organizations?" and "Do you intend to engage in prostitution while in the United States?" make smiles crack on the girls' faces. No they don't, but they do intend to wear necklaces with a map of Iraq on the day of their visa interviews. Their only chance at earning a visa is if they emphasize their undying intention to return to their country as soon as they graduate; proof of familial, emotional, and social ties to Iraq help. I find myself a bit more puzzled than a week ago as to how I managed to get ahold of the golden ticket that is my passport.