Jwan Yousif: The Time Traveler


By Thea Gonzales

Time is what dictates the condition of human existence. Though difficult to define from both a philosophical and scientific standpoint, quite simply, time rules every aspect of modern civilization: it determines the hour at which you wake, eat, sleep, and fulfill the many obligations to which your life is attached. There is no way of escaping its power, but there are ways of learning to live in coexistence with time.

From her ability to balance an impressive list of  after school responsibilities to her extraordinary growth as a learner, senior Jwan Yousif travels through time’s demands with wisdom from countries beyond and kindness that knows no cultural boundary.

“I like to be on time. This is my strength. In Iraq, people say that middle eastern people are not on time. I wasn’t on time until I came to the U.S. I learned there are meetings, there are other things, people won’t wait for you. Now I’ve changed my habit,” Yousif said.

Five minutes early to her interview, Yousif apologized for her appearance, citing work as the reason behind her otherwise unaffected visage. Just one hour before, Yousif was working at Victoria’s Secret in Old Orchard mall, cleaning up after the mess of merchandise caused by the notorious Black Friday sale. 20 hours each week, Yousif works two jobs, the other as an employee at Fresh Farms.

“She works on weekends, and when she has work during the regular days, she tries to finish her homework in school during her study hall,” senior Mariam Fouad said.

Among her limited time out of the required curriculum, Yousif also manages to serve her community as a National Honors Society and Go Green club member, peer leader, lit center tutor, and ELL tutor.

As a former ELL student, Yousif was transferred to regular English classes after three years and continues to do everything she can to support other students who are learning to speak and write English for the first time.

“It taught me a lot. When I came here, I only knew how to say ‘hi,’ ‘no,’ and ‘yes.’ But now, thank God, I’m getting through it: I’m making my way,” Yousif said.

Because of her experiences in ELL classes, Yousif has evolved with time to become a capable speaker of not only English but Spanish in addition to her native Arabic and Assyrian. In learning how to communicate through different languages, Yousif also connected to the world around her in new ways, forming strong friendships out of shared challenges.

“We became friends because we were in the same ELL classes. She’s very bright, friendly, hardworking, and she always challenges herself. She can be funny. I think she balances her lifestyle because she has a dream. She is a person who I can rely on because we both started as an ELL student. She understands the struggle that we both went through to adjust,” senior Aiko Sekino said.

Speaking is just one of many ways in which Yousif maintains her identity while exploring new cultures. Outside of the time that her jobs, education, and social life consume, Yousif attends a church where groups of people from all over the middle east can gather and worship together.

“I love singing! I sing in my church choir; we meet every Saturday and Sunday,” Yousif said.

Even when she was in Iraq 6 years ago, Yousif journeyed to both lands of old and new, singing church songs of all styles in her native Arabic.

Of course, Yousif’s respect for her culture originates from the place where her timeline began: with her family.

“We’re a lovely family. We’re always together! Before this [interview], my mom was like, ‘oh you’re tired. You just came from work. I’m going to give you a ride.’ I’m not gonna leave my family when I go to college,” Yousif said.

Regardless of blood relation, Yousif extends her title of “family” to people she trusts; like her biological family, she takes care of them.

“I have known Jwan since 2013. We became friends because when I first came to this school, she was the first person who helped me to find my class. She is a nice and helpful person. Jwan helped me to find a job. Last year, I was looking for a job and she helped me with that,” Fouad said.

Family plays an essential role in shaping Yousif’s plans for the future. She wants to stay close enough so that she can be home whenever she needs to be but also far enough to pursue her aspirations.

In five years’ time, Yousif hopes to be thriving under the pressures of time, studying hard and “getting a degree! My dream is to become a pharmacist, so I’m going to UIC. I’ll get my bachelor’s degree– which is going to be in five years or more — and then go into pharmacy. It’s a very clean job… I want to be in the medical field, but I don’t like seeing blood. I need something neat,” Yousif said.

Time is what everyone always craves and inevitably runs out of. It is an elementary fact that time will always be a part of life. For Jwan Yousif, life will be taking a new direction after she crosses the stage during graduation and receives her first diploma. She has countless scores, decades, years, and months to achieve indescribable feats and love incomparable loves in her lifetime. But in spite of all the time she has in the future, she chooses not to waste any that she is given now. For Jwan Yousif, dreams don’t just come to fruition: the time is now.

“It’s very important to have a goal so you can get through everything and overcome any difficulties with your consistency. It actually helped me see who I am and what I like. You know, before high school, you don’t know where you’re going. Like, okay, yeah. Whatever my friends do, I do. But high school? No, it made my head really clear: what I like, what I don’t. And it taught me who my real friends are and how I can find them,” Yousif said.