For many generations of Arab youth, mine included, studying and working in the United States was a coveted opportunity to experience freedoms, possibilities and the sense of egalitarianism that the American way of life embodied.

It was a doubly enriching experience for those of us raised in authoritarian or conservative societies. It was thrilling to be able to think and act independently, without societal pressure. I was excited to take home some of the lessons I learned from a functioning democracy, not least the vital role of freedom of expression, the importance of civil society and the exceptional benefits of empowering people.

Of course, I was also aware of the U.S. system’s failings, and in particular, the perpetuation of racism and inequality. I remember the Jim Crow laws enforcing racial segregation in the former Confederate states and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., who articulated African-Americans’ dreams of equality and human decency.