Aysha El Shamayleh

This former gymnast from Amman, Jordan is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania. When she first arrived in the United States, Aysha was nervous. "I was sensitive because I did not know how Americans would react to me being an Arab," she says. "I didn't know what they'd think, and I was scared. A lot of my American friends—I was the first Arab they ever met."

While she has since settled in comfortably, she still misses some things from home. "I missed the food," she says. "You guys don't have good food."

Aysha is proud and grateful for her education. When her father was confronted by people who doubted the need for women's education, he stood for his beliefs. Aysha recounts, "He said, 'You know what? I love my daughters and I'm going to invest in them, in their education.' That's why I really love my father. He's a feminist."

Aysha spits passionately about gender and social justice for the Middle East and all Muslims. "My first language is Arabic," she says. "And sometimes I feel really guilty because I cannot pick up a pen and write a poem in Arabic. Maybe it's because it's a very rich, sophisticated language, very difficult to use." Is there slam poetry in the Arab world? Aysha says, "Not that I'm aware of, but my sister and I were thinking we would love to introduce it to Jordan and the Arab world."

Aysha recognizes the challenges that lie ahead. "There is a lot of pressure because we are the reigning champions," she says. "There are a lot of expectations and I hope we live up to them." At this year's Brave New Voices, she discovers that both confrontation and compromise will enable her to have her say.

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