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Lowell High School's Newspaper of Record

The LHS Review

Coming to America against the will

My immigrant experience


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By Phuc “Phee” Nguyen

Lowell, MA- As a sixteen-year-old Vietnamese girl arriving in America against my will,  two years ago I came with my family to make a new life in this City.

Forced to say goodbye to my culture and country, classmates, friends and family. Everyday immigrant students across the nation traverse similar obstacles that I experienced since late 2014.

In my home country Vietnam I have a lot of friends and we can communicate well in our language. I can both relax and study at the same time. I just need to focus on studying and that’s all. However when I came here, I have to work almost everyday because I want to help my family. We left the perfect life behind and built a new hard life now which includes new house, job and education.

I did not want to leave a stable middle class life in my home country. However, my mother had different plans.  

“You will have more opportunities, a better life and greater future.  I do it for you , so  listen to me, ” said my mother Huong Bui.

In Vietnam I studied at a good school, and my mom got a really good job. We had a large house and my mom bought her car already. I can make my own decisions such as choosing to learn my favorite major and traveling around my country.

Then, I moved to America.  I had to adjust to a new home, new school, no friends and surrounded by a whole different environment. Culture and language are the first difficulties which present a shock to me.

I struggled with daily life as an English Language Learner (ELL) student at Lowell High when I first came in 2014 with almost no English experience coming to America and a strong accent. I also wasn’t used to seeing all types of races and the languages, so cultural shock happened to me, and family conflict issues moreover.

I really resented my mother for taking me away from the security of our home country and culture.  I still want to go back today even if I have overcome many obstacles here.

In this way immigrant students are different from refugee students, who often flee civil war, famine or persecution.  The refugee student, often times displaced to refugee camps, may not have the option to return to their home country, according to my Lowell High teacher Matthew Brennan.  But, I can go back.

LHS teacher Kristen Colon, an ELL teacher who works with these newcomer students, has seen different experiences throughout her teaching career.

“Students have trouble to adapt to their environment and the people around them…students have hard times [in school] as they had informal education, or haven’t gone to school until 3rd grade, or even some had wars and outside forces affecting their lives,” said Ms. Colon.  “Immigrant students and refugee students can have different challenges.”

Starting over was a bit of an awkward situation for me as I was older than most people in my grade here.  People my age in my country are off to college or already in work, so I felt out of it in a lower grade with younger students here.

I miss my way of life in Vietnam when I had freedom to do whatever I like. I miss my friends and street food. I used to have fun a lot since I have more independence.

After I had to leave my friends and extended family back in my home country, I experienced loneliness as I didn’t have anyone else to rely on except my mom and sister.  And I was already distant with my mom since I resented her for the move.

That is how I experience my new country.  My struggles are language, school, work, no friends and family.

“Financial struggles affect them too with no new clothes. On the other side, there are some students who are excited to be in a new country, while others don’t like it and have to work undocumented, ” Ms. Colon said.

Ms. Colon also described to me how social and family life are different when you’re living in a foreign country and culture.

“On another issue [certain cultures] have family issues like arranged marriages, and so the American tradition of dating in high school is a different experience for them,” said Ms. Colon.  “Students often have more freedom in American culture but their parents may not like this freedom, they may not like their child dating a student outside their culture.”

Adding to that, ELL students have had trouble speaking with others due to insecurities or informal education. As though they are separated by invisible barriers, immigrant and refugee students both face the frustration of not being able to thoroughly express themselves in their new language, according to Ms. Colon.

A sophomore ELL student Ryam said, “It is hard to talk and make new friends while learning a new language…Even though I try my best but sometimes I feel like I want to give up because of stress.”

When I first came here, language is the big challenge for me too. I had already planned what I want to be in the future. However, it is not easy to do it because English is not my first language.

I also was surprised by some student behavior here.  In Vietnam, younger people have to respect other older people, but here sometime people don’t really care about the age and they can do something disrespectful to older people. It was a shock.

“Not everyone has the patience to learn the language, stay in school and students would like to contribute to the family more…It can be frustrating to be learning a language as a beginner and not have enough language to excel in academic subjects,” said Mr. Brennan.  “Working a low-skill labor job can be more fulfilling both financially and emotionally because you’re doing something productive for your family and earning money.”

Immigrant ELL students struggle on a basis on what they can do and change to be happy, some pursue education, fame or fortune, or even a way back home to family.  I want to pursue my dreams but I still want to go home to my country too.

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Lowell High School's Newspaper of Record
Coming to America against the will