Rana Ansari – Integrating American and Iraqi Cultures


As this year comes to an end, many of Riverbend’s talented seniors will be exiting high school and transitioning into a new college or career. One of Riverbend’s seniors, Rana Ansari, looks forward to attending the Guaranteed Admissions Program in Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Ansari is also an accomplished musician who began playing the piano at around 5 years old. She has performed with the National Federation of Music clubs in local and state events. “I have also placed in local and state competitions where I had the opportunity to perform, meet, and watch talented musicians,” said Ansari. “For me, however, the greatest honor I have received from piano was the beauty of knowing how to play, and learning how to enjoy a variety of repertoire, whether that’s classical or contemporary. Piano is one of the best ways I can express myself, especially as an Iraqi-American.”

While being heavily involved in music, Ansari is also a first generation American and enjoys immersing herself in her family’s culture. “I was born in Spotsylvania, so I am native to Virginia, but the biggest thing that has set me apart from other native Spotsylvanians is the fact that I am Iraqi,” said Ansari. “Since COVID started I have taken initiative in connecting with my roots mainly in learning standard (Fusha) Arabic rather than the Iraqi dialect I learn at home.” During the COVID pandemic, Ansari has also tasked herself with preserving photos of her family from as early as the 1930’s. “I have pictures of my grandmother in the beautiful city of Mosul, my sister playing in the gardens of my father’s house in Baghdad, my parent’s time in Sweden as refugees, and so much more,” said Ansari. “This is extremely time consuming, keeping track of my family history, because of how dispersed it is. There are beautiful parts to this, being able to learn more about who I am and where I come from. However, what pains me the most is to see Iraq, one of the world’s most diverse, naturally beautiful, and culturally rich place before it was ruined. I’m glad I have the opportunity to see it, even if through photos.”

While being Iraqi-American, Ansari has learned the norms of these two different cultures. Through this, she has learned the significance of diversity. “I grew up in an environment where I spoke Iraqi-Arabic with a weird accent in one place, to speaking English with weird grammar in another, or having to explain the rip in my jeans to my parents, to explaining my lunch to my friends at school,” said Ansari. “However, as I got older, I realized that this wasn’t a challenge, but something to embrace. I am lucky that Riverbend had an environment in which I felt comfortable expressing my bicultural identity, and I hope that in the future, Riverbend and its alumni will be able to do so further.”