Pursuing Dreams: Stories of Refugee and Immigrant Youth in California is a series of stories of overcoming odds. That of survival, resilience, and cross-cultural friendships. Stories in this series highlight moments where opportunity was unlocked and a challenge overcome. At Refugee Transitions (RT), we work with refugee and immigrant newcomers every day who have stories that follow this arc. Some of these stories are not ready to be shared. They are still fresh and raw and hold much pain after having fled war, economic hardships, or violence; lost loved ones; and/or having been resettled after living in refugee camps for many years. Others are crying to be told--we share these here. While some have elements of horror and devastation, all speak of resilience and inspiration. Shared with each other and with new audiences, we believe these stories will serve to raise awareness, appreciation, and a greater understanding of the incredible journeys of newer and younger members in our shared communities.

We were inspired to pursue this project because of the many stories that have been shared informally with us in the past. All our students are refugee, asylee, or immigrant newcomers. These stories almost always include an element of school success or learning the English language, keys that unlocked opportunity and broke down social and linguistic isolation. In light of the backlash against newcomers in our country currently, we thought it especially important to feature these stories, which we believe “shatter the victim box”, and depict resilience, determination, and contributions to our shared communities. We hope that these stories break down abstract divisions and remind us of our humanity and connectedness to others.

Over the course of twelve months, beginning in January 2015, RT worked with a small team of collaborators to map out our project goals and story collection methods. We reached out to our volunteer tutors and after-school staff--our frontline and service team--to work with their students to record and edit stories. Using the “Language Experience Approach” (LEA) that helps language learners develop language skills through familiar content, such as their stories, tutors used open-ended “prompts” that we provided and worked with students to record the stories. While there are many lessons learned from this effort in collecting stories, we are very proud of the results and extremely grateful to our students for their bravery and humility in sharing their stories, and to our volunteers and staff for their continued dedication in working with our students to enhance life prospects and better our shared communities.

As a team, we talked at length about the editing process. Should we correct grammar? Should we edit to create more typical story arcs? Should we go back with additional questions to pull out story lines? In the end, we decided to correct grammar only when it affected the reader’s understanding of the story. We felt that grammatical mistakes were beautiful reminders that all our students are English learners (most submissions were from students who have been in the U.S. for less than 4 years), and that with that lens in mind, these hiccups were trivial when compared to the broader stories. We wanted the stories to remain as the students remembered them and how they wanted to present them, so while we did go back with a few questions here and there, editing on the project team’s part was minimal (although some volunteers may have worked on editing with their students). That said, in a couple of cases, we edited out references that we felt might potentially have negative unintended consequences. This was a tough call but given that we are working with minors, we wanted to be especially mindful. Finally, it was imperative that we present the stories as our narrators wanted them to be presented. As such, except for the three students in our film whose names were already publicly presented and align with their written stories, we gave all our narrators the option to use their first name, a self-selected pseudonym, or initials. We also replaced school names with generic “elementary school” or “high school” so that for stories where there may be sensitivities and students could still be identifiable even with a pseudonym, we could add an element of anonymity at their schools.

We are grateful to California Humanities for making this project possible; and to Brenna Powell (Associate Director, the Stanford Center on International Conflict and Negotiation; and Principal, the IPRE Group), and Kate Lord (Humanitarian Photographer and Filmmaker) for providing invaluable guidance as our humanity advisors throughout the project. In addition, Kate filmed and co-produced the award-winning Pursuing Dreams film, teaching us a great deal about documentary making along the way! Many thanks also to Cliff Mayotte and Claire Kiefer for their practical guidance through the Voice of Witness Amplifying Unheard Voices training. While our students submitted their stories in written formats, this training was extremely relevant in informing how we thought through the editing process and honoring our narrators' stories. Finally, none of this would have been possible without the hard work of Julia Glosemeyer, RT's Development and Impact Coordinator, who worked tirelessly to bring together innumerable facets of this project!

With that, I invite you to read through our story series--Pursuing Dreams: Stories of Refugee and Immigrant Youth in California!

Sincerely,
Jane Pak
Project Director

 

This project was made possible with support from California Humanities,
a nonprofit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
For more information, visit www.calhum.org.

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The Pursuing Dreams film received an Award of Merit for a Documentary Short at the IMPACT DOCS Awards and Best of Fest for Social/Health/Disability Short at the Livermore Valley Film Festival!

 

The Pursuing Dreams film was selected for the Sacramento International Film Festival 2016, the Livermore Valley Film Festival 2016, the San Francisco Documentary Festival 2016, the Festival of Globe 2016, and the San Francisco Frozen Film Festival 2016.

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My name is Wiro. I am from Burma. I speak Karen. I am fourteen years old. I have three brothers and three sisters. I live in Oakland with my family and I am in 9th grade.

I will tell you about my life experience. When I first came to the United States I didn’t speak English. I came to school and I didn’t know anything. I was very afraid. Many people were from different countries, and I didn’t know anyone. I had to work at school and I didn’t know how to do anything, but I was too afraid to ask the teacher or any a question.

At first, English was very hard for me. I had six classes and I really had to work hard. I had too much homework and I didn’t know how to do it. The teacher would talk and speak English, but I couldn’t understand anything! Another problem in class was I didn’t know anyone. Some of the students didn’t like me, but I just tried my best. I always respected the teacher and kept trying.

My school in the U.S. was very different than school in the refugee camps in Thailand. Classes there were both easier in some ways and more difficult in others. It was easier in the refugee camp school because I could speak my native language. I could understand the teacher too. But it was more difficult because I always had to memorize words, numbers, and problems. And if I could not remember or memorize something, the teacher would come around with a stick and hit my hands or my side. Sometimes I would have to stand up and jump up and down until my legs got tired if I forgot to memorize something.

So school in the U.S. was more difficult than before in the camps, but it was only because I couldn’t speak English. After five months, I could speak English a little better. I’m very shy and nervous, but I tried to ask a question to the teacher to help me. I also started to play soccer and enjoyed that a lot.

When I got to seventh grade, my English was much better than when I arrived. I was not really shy to ask the teacher a question and I know many English words now. But I still have to work hard and try my best.

"[Refugee Transitions’] after school program tutoring helped me learn English. [My teacher] was very nice. She loved people. I liked learning with her. She helped me with homework. I also learned talking to my friends who were Mexican or Chinese. We didn't know English but we tried our best.

I want to go to college. And then I'm not sure. I really want to be the soccer player, but I'm not sure. With soccer I try hard and I like it. But I don't know if I can be the professional or whatever. Another dream is I want to go help my country. I want to help them get freedom, help my people and country go teach the children, help them build a school, get an education. The army too. I want to join the military. You can live in the village. The army needs to be like security. I will pursue my dreams and go to college. I want to study to do the training thing to be strong. I have to go to college and learn more English to do that.

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There are not many things that have happened to me that are interesting. The only interesting experience I have ever had is something that happened to me when I traveled to the United States. On my journey to the United States, I experienced something that I can never delete from my mind. When my father and I were almost at the border, I believe halfway through the trip, we got separated from the group of people who were also coming with us.

Our trip started in September of 2008. We planned our trip to take one to two weeks. We started at San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. We rode a bus from San Salvador all the way to Guatemala. Once in Guatemala, we had to walk for a day but that went well.

The second time we had to walk was when things got interesting. This time we had to walk for three days. When walking, we felt that we were in a house that was burning. We were sweating and we had 4 bottles of water that we drank in less than an hour. After walking for a couple of hours, we had to cross a road that was supervised by U.S. Immigration. We saw a cloud of dust at the horizon and we realized that it was immigration. When we started to run, we noticed a truck that was heading towards us. The truck was like a cheetah running for its prey. We ran to a nearby forest and while we were running, I felt my dad grabbing me and pulling me in the direction of a bush. This bush was really small but big enough for my dad and I to hide. It didn’t have many branches. When we were under the bush, we saw four ICE officers run by our faces. We heard them yelling “Stop running!”

We stayed under that bush for about five hours. We felt the ants biting our bodies but we didn’t want to move because we didn’t want to get caught. After five hours of suffering we decided to go and look for a house where people could help us. We were lost for about a week without food. We drank water from puddles, and most of the time we hid from everyone. On the Sunday of that week, we were really tired and hungry. We had been walking so much that the soles of my dad’s feet were bleeding and I had to support him. It was dark and foggy and we couldn’t see far away. We saw a building but we didn’t pay much attention to it. We continued walking in the direction of the building. When we were in front of it, we noticed a cross, we had encountered a church. We went and asked for help. The people there were very kind, they gave us food and they let us borrow a phone to call my uncle who then sent another coyote to come pick us up. This memory can never be deleted from my mind.

When I started this journey I had big dreams in my mind. I knew that it was going to be hard traveling to another place by land. Most of the people immigrate to this country seeking for more opportunities. I came here looking for a better life. I had to go through a lot to accomplish it, and now I have accomplished it. I didn’t find what I was expecting to find when I first got here, but I have realized that because I stood strong and I didn’t gave up, I now have a better life and more opportunities.

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My name is Mahdi. I’m from Afghanistan. I’m 14 years old. When I was just one month I traveled from Afghanistan to Iran. I went to Iran with my father, mother, brother and two sisters. We went to the capital city of Iran. It’s called Tehran. There are many small cities in Tehran. I lived in four cities in Tehran. In Iran, there are three or four languages and one of them is Farsi. I speak Farsi. In Tehran I had many friends. I liked Iran because there are many nice places. Also, old places and statues from history. I left Iran when I was 12 years old. My family and I left Iran to make a better life in another country.

Before we came to the United States we went to Europe to a country called Slovakia. We were there for 6 months. We were in a camp for refugees. There were many other Afghani families who came with us to Slovakia who wanted to go to the United States. There were also many families from Somalia who went to the United States from Slovakia.

In Slovakia I had a teacher who taught me how to speak English. His name was Steven. He was a very nice man. Also he had learned how to speak Farsi. He is my best teacher in my life. I miss him a lot.

After being 6 months in Slovakia and learning English, all the families and I and my family came to the United States. All of us was together in a hotel in New York for one night. After that we separated and everybody went to their states. We came to Oakland, California in 2013 just before Christmas. Now I’m still in Oakland, California for one year and two months. After going to middle school for almost one year, I came to high school in Oakland. Here, I play soccer because I love it and I hope I will become a professional soccer player in the future.  

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Hi my name is Bun and I am from Cambodia. I am 15 years old and I have four siblings and I’m the oldest. My dad was a business man and my mom was a house wife. When I was about six years old, my mom and my dad were separated. So I went to live with my mom for a few years. After that, I and my siblings went to live with my dad and my abusive step mom. She beat us every day. It was sad for us. So one day I decided to leave them and come back to live with my own mom. My brother and sisters stay with my dad. My mom was not as rich as them but she could work and support me. As I got older, I had a dream of coming to USA. The dream came from when I watched American movies and heard people talking about how great the country was. I heard people say that America is a very organized country and it has cities full of lights everywhere. I wanted to live in the snow. I am here in the U.S.A now but I’m not living in the snow. Here is the story of how I got to America.

The reason we came here to the USA was because a woman who was rich and with high ranking in Cambodia wanted to kill my mom and my aunt's family. It all started when this woman came to my cousin and said "I just want to be your sister and nothing else." She said that because my cousin was famous and very attractive. My cousin became famous but stayed poor. This woman convinced my cousin that she would help her. My cousin said, "Yes you can be my sister." The woman bought her and her family a lot of stuff including a house and a car. Until one day [something happened] and my cousin wanted to get away from her. So, this woman began to treat my cousin badly. She buried her dog alive. She wouldn't let her out of the house. She warned my cousin that if she left her, her whole family would be dead. So my cousin continued to live with her until one day she couldn't stand it and decided to run away from the house.

The woman came to my mom with her body guard and asked my mom, "Where is your niece?" mom said she didn't know where she was. So, my mom was really afraid that the woman was going to kill her right there as she had a gun pointed at her. As this method didn't work, she tried to call my other aunt. The woman told my aunt about how she felt, about how my cousin ran away from her and about how she was going to kill somebody in the family if they knew where my cousin was and they didn't tell her right now! My aunt was recording the phone call. There was a recording sound and the woman noticed it. She told my aunt that you can record this and give it to the news reporter but there will be a sea full of blood. After a few days, she demanded that her body guard pour acid on my aunt. My aunt was in a very bad condition and later she died. The story was in the news. The woman was not arrested because she disappeared. However, someone in Cambodia with a lot of money can get away with anything. So we were still afraid of what she could do. As a result, we had to leave our country because if we had stayed in Cambodia, we all would be dead.

An international organization heard about our story and decided to help us. They sent us to Malaysia. We lived in Malaysia for five years while waiting to go to the USA which we believed to be a very safe place for us to live. When I first arrived in Malaysia, I had a lot of challenges as I did not speak any English at all. So, I went to a refugee school where all refugees from different countries came together to study English. I learned a lot of English there as I tried to speak with a lot of people in English. After five years, the moment we have been waiting for came. The organization called us and said, ‘’Congratulations! Here is your flight date to America.’’ We were really excited.

On June 13th, 2014 we landed in the USA at Los Angeles. Then we took the flight to Oakland California. The American organization found us a house to live in. And a few weeks later I went to my first school, a summer school in Oakland. I make a lot of friends because I can communicate with them easily in English and it is not as hard as the first school I went to in Malaysia. My English keeps getting better. This school is good for people who are new to this country like me. I'm looking forward to graduating from high school and going to college. I want to have a career as a software developer. For nine months now I've been living here with mom and my sister, our life keeps getting better.

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I’m coming from a hard working family. My parents are people that I admire. They always look out for their children to give them the necessary to live. When I was a little, I always wondered why none of us is attending college? Why we cannot continue with the school further? Even though my parents work so hard for us it wasn’t enough for us to attend school. Now I understand their situation. One timeI asked both of them if one day I will go to school if one day I was going to be a professional and I remembered them saying we cannot promise you anything but we don’t want to lying to you too but you know that we have more childrens than you and we can’t afford so then everyone could go so the answer is no…

When I was 16 years old I decided to immigrate to USA the reasons were looking for a new future for myself but also for my family. I’m from a poor family before coming to the USA. I couldn’t dream to have a better future to study because back home that’s how it is. Even though people dream with something that does not exist like opportunities, programs and support.

When I came here I couldn’t believe one of my dreams was coming true. I was attending school again after quit for 6 years before. But it wasn’t easy. I had to start again but with more challenges the big one English the new language. I said I didn’t born to study, school wasn’t made for me. That’s why my dad told us all to don’t lie to ourselves, to accept the true that we never will see a diploma that doesn’t matter, our effort always we will going to fall.

But here there is a lot of support people who believe in you that care about you even though they don’t know you. RT gave me a home tutor an awesome person. Since I started working with her my dreams come alive. RT gives support, hope and inspiration. The tutor help students like me approaching their dreams my entire life has been changing in a good way.

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Click here to see Fatuma in the Pursuing Dreams film

Coming to a foreign and a strange country like the United States, I had to endure instances of challenging life experiences just like any other immigrant who comes to this country. Through hard work and curiosity to understand other people in a different social, economical and religious context, I managed to minimize the gap between me and the American society.

I came from a place where I used to speak and practice all the time in Somali but coming here, I had to learn a new and different language that I didn’t spoke before. Having been born and raised in a society where everyone was like me, I came to a place where I was the different one in so many aspects. Among them were: the way I dressed, the different language I spoke, and the thick accent I used were the major obstacles I had faced.

I really didn't know how to read much English. Sometimes I used to feel shy and sometimes regretted whenever I said incorrect words. I was feeling like a timid cat, afraid to talk or even discuss with others. I also used to think that people would make fun of the way I spoke. I was scared that people might make funny stories about me and I constantly felt embarrassed whenever I thought people were talking about me. They talked in their language and they laughed loudly and that was what made me think that they were not being nice even though they were not talking about me. I was lonely meaning that I did not have anyone who spoke my language who I could get help from. My binder had protected me from talking with other students. I pretended to do work when I was not doing anything. I was making myself as a busy person who don't have time to talk.

I remember one day, I cried because of the way I did not ask for help and I was getting a bad grade. I felt lonely whenever I saw people communicating in their own language and I felt jealous of them. I just needed someone who knew my language and understood me who I could go to and ask for help. At that time, I thought if I didn’t learn English in one week, I will not be alive. I was about to explode because I couldn’t handle my hurt. I told my mother what had happened to me and she used to say, “It’s fine daughter. You don't have to look down on yourself and you will learn English just the way other students learned.”

However, after about a month, I overcame some of my fears. I started to forget what happened in the past and tried to start anew. I have learned more about the different cultural backgrounds of the society in which that I live. I had made new friends that have the same and different backgrounds. It is much easier for me now to interact with other people compared to the time when I was new to this country. Now I get to speak, practice and learn more English.

Indeed I had faced challenges when I started living in California. Even though learning English was a big issue for me, right now my heart is happy just the way people feel during the sunset. Sometimes I ask myself why I felt that way. Everyone was just the way I was when they were learning the language, and no one was born speaking a language. But now I get to experience more. Whenever I am facing challenges like when I was new, I just try everything and I believe that I can do anything.

My dream is to go to college and become a nurse. I think that’s a skill I will have in the future or until I die and I want to help people who need my help here and in my country.

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My name is N.N. I am from Africa Congo. I came to the USA on April 25, 2013. Three weeks after I arrived I went to elementary school. My teacher asked me to introduce myself. I was nervous. Later I made a friend named Emily at school. I thought she was pretty cool. A week later she was bored and tired of hanging out with me. So she just told me that she was sorry and that the friendship was not working out. I was sad. I thought Emily really wanted to be my friend but it was just a waste of time.

Two weeks later I went to church. I tried to forget about Emily but she just kept on coming to my mind. I felt bad but I knew that I had to move on. I just didn't know if I could trust a person again. Then I met Lily. She was so nice to me. She introduced me to Ashley and Chloe. They were so nice to me. I felt like the way I felt with Emily, but I didn’t know if I could trust her. I didn't want my feelings hurt again.

One day, I was outside the church. Then I bumped into someone and tripped over someone’s shoe and I fell down. I scraped my knee. Ashley and Chloe were the first people to stand up and help me. They took me to their mom. Their mom was a nurse, so she helped me. Chloe’s mother cleaned with cotton balls and put a Band-Aid. We became friends. I still have the scar on my knee. Every time I look at it, I remember Ashley and Chloe.

Ashley is really positive and funny. She makes me laugh. Chloe is really helpful and we have a lot of stuff in common. We both like pop music. We all do art. They invite me to their house sometimes to do some art. I want to tell people who are coming to America like me not to give up on finding a friend. Some people might not want to be your friend, but just don't give up. Keep trying. There will always be a person in the world, who wants to be friends with you.

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My name is J. M. I am in 10th grade. I am from Guatemala. I came here 3 years ago with my mom and my sister. We came on an airplane and when the airplane went up, I was afraid to look at the ground. The airplane was better than a car or a bus. I was so happy because I was together with my dad. I was a little sad because my grandparents stayed there. I said “take care of you” and I cried. I saw my mom crying too and it made me more sad.

I was scared the first day of school because I didn't know English. I just speak Mam and Spanish at home. I didn't know what my teacher would say to me. My first friend was P. who I met in middle school. She asked me “ are you new?” I said “yes”. “I am new too” she said. She spoke with me in Mam. We discover that we were from the same country. We were in math class together we solved math problems together. She was good at math, so she helped me. I didn't know multiplication, division or the numbers in English. The teacher kept asking me what is my name but I didn't know how to answer. Also I didn't understand the homework she gave me. Then P. told me to not worry about how to answer the question, just to do my best and to be happy to be learning English. She said that learning English is difficult. When I came home from school my parent said don't worry if you do not understand English. One month a teacher told my parents if I could not speak English I didn't want to go to school any more. My parent encouraged me. If I go to school I will learn English also I will have a better future.    

My dream is to go to college to be a nurse. First I need to finish high school. The reason why I want to be a nurse is because I want to work with children and help them when they are sick. Last year my parent told me that I can go to college if I want and I was thinking about what job I will do if I go to college. I decided to study to be a nurse. Second reason I want to be a nurse is because nobody in my family is a nurse. My uncle is a policeman and my aunt is a teacher. The last reason why I want to be a nurse is because it is a good paying job and I want to support my parents in the future.

My parent and my English teacher encourage me to do this job. First my mom tell me if I do this job I will have a better future and life. Before I didn't think about this job. I was think about just to finish high school and I will go to find a job. But when my mom tell this idea to continue be in school like in college and to be a nurse and I was think this job is not too hard. Also I was think that to get an associate degree and they pay you like $777 dollar a week. Another thing that I was think is that today I am 15 years old and my family take care of me but in the future I need to take care of them because they are important to me like my mom and my dad. Finally the other person that encourage me is my English teacher because she tell me if I do this job like nurse when she will get sick I will be her nurse. I think it is a good idea to be a nurse.

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I come from Guatemala a beautiful country with a lot of mountains where you can find a lot of water and you don’t have to pay for it like we do in this country but it also had bad things such as people killing each other. For example a few days ago some peoples kill a person in my town they cut his head take out his interior organs and then throw the rest of the body in a remote place. Also many peopledisappear and nobody knows what happened to them because there is not police officers in this area. The community send them out from this place because after they arrest some criminals they let them free as if they have not done nothing bad. Also I remember a time when on this place few persons were burned alive because they were doing bad thing on the community such as stole, extortions and other things.

A challenge that I have overcoming was to choose between doing bad things or do the right things because a few years ago I started to use drugs, drink alcohol, don’t attend school and stole thing from stores and other places but after many experiences in my life I realize that I was ending with my life because there is many leaders who had the control over this places and can easily kill you.

I overcome this challenge by escaping because if I stayed there for more time maybe now I could be a few meters under the soil and not writing and telling some parts of how my life was before I came to the United States. Someone who give me advices and who should be thankful was my older brother who disappear few time ago and who maybe is death now. He was the best person on the world who always help and protect me. I saw him like a second dad for me but after many obstacles in my life I start to dream again like when the sun is rising up showing a new being with new opportunities.

Now my dream is to study medicine and don’t stop now even though I don’t have support from my family especially from my parents that always demoralize me by telling me to quit the school and just get a job and work but I don’t have to listen them. I don’t have to give up now after I did many thing just to keep studying. But also my life is much more different here because most of the time I’m feel alone because my family is not here. Just my dad but to live with him is not easy for me because most of the time we are disagree with each other and have different issues and is not the best thing somebody could deserve in their life.

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Click here to see Win in the Pursuing Dreams film

In the beginning, when I first came to America I only spoke Burmese and Tamil. I felt like I didn’t belong in Oakland. I was always lonely and I didn’t make that much friends. I didn’t speak English and I always got made fun of by people. After time passed, I started to feel more comfortable in school and started to talk to people. So much hatred was focused around me by some people. I wanted to improve myself and make them regret treating me badly.

My first goal in the beginning was to make friends but I thought it was not really possible to make friends without communication so I decided to focus on learning English. I pushed my boundaries to speak with adults and share my feelings with them using my words. In middle school, my life was a bit more complicated because of so much drama. I was more worried about what other people thought of me than what I thought about myself. I wanted to be the popular kid that every other kid in middle school wanted to be. So I stopped being curious about learning and focused more on the drama. My grades started to decrease and my parents were disappointed at me. My mom asked one of our family friend to find us a tutor and the next day our family friend came with a tutor [from Refugee Transitions] named Gareth. In the beginning, it was hard for me to understand Gareth but as he came every week I started to notice that my English was improving and I wasn’t scared to talk. My curiousness for knowledge got stronger every time Gareth came. I started to ask him a lot of questions and he answered all of them.

In seventh grade, I met an awesome teacher named Ms. S. She was an amazing teacher and she pushed me to improve. She cared for me and always helped me if I need it. Ms. S. one day gave me a book called Percy Jackson to read. I took the book and I read it. When I was done with the book I was amazed at how interesting the book was. Percy Jackson hooked me on books. After that I started to read books in my free time and I always shared my feelings about the books with her. She was an amazing teacher and she was one of the people that also changed my perspective about education.

My life was changed by these amazing people and I started to not care about popularity and cared more about learning and my future. I started to notice that I had a much higher grade than I used to. In eighth grade, I had straight 4.0 in my school. I was considered the smart kid in my class and my English was fluent. Now I’m in high school and my life is awesome! 

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When my family lived in the Kayah state of Burma, they lived in a war. The Karenni had been waging a war of resistance ever since Burmese forces invaded our state on August 9, 1948. At that time, many people feared the Burmese soldiers because they assassinated and burned the villages. Then everyone moved to different places and my family lost many things. For example, my family lost house and peasant during the Burmese soldiers destruction the Kayah villages.

The Karenni and Burmese civil war did not end. I cried out when I heard the weapons shoot out bullets. I felt mournful because of the war. My family could not sleep day and night. My life was so difficult living in a war because the place was horrible and dangerous. My eyes teared when I slept because I worried about my family. My brother almost got killed when he went outside, since then my father took him to stay inside of the campus house.  

Later, my family moved to Thailand to a place of safety for my family to live. My family was a resilient and gracious people with a great sense of humor. They had a very strong work ethic, and did not complain. I lived out of a basic belief that life is difficult, so I do what I have to do in order to survive. My family demonstrated great dignity and provided for themselves and helped their fellow Karenni people. They are not easily offended by outsiders and were very appreciative of any kind of help they received. Unfortunately, it was very difficult for my family to ask for help because my family did not have any money to pay for them.

Then President Obama “opened the door” for immigrants to come to the U.S. I came to the United States from Thailand with my family. My family took airplane flights to Japan, United States and Los Angeles, California to get to Oakland. Everything was strange to me and totally different from my country. I did not know how to speak proper English and write correctly. I felt ineffective and ignorant. I had a difficult time understanding English when my teachers taught me. It’s very difficult to learn a new language, and the English language is one of the hardest to learn in my life. Thus, I will learn to develop an attitude about English and be confident.

My family took care of me so that we could find a better life. My parents worked day and night to help us. My life is better now, but all I want is to be able to keep my education going and have a good future. I succeed to walk through the doors of opportunity because this will open the door to my new life.

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Imagine that you are sleeping in your house in apartment and the building fall down. Do you fall about your family? Are you worried? Are you hurt? Is it a hard time for you? I left Afghanistan with my family on 2/4/2014 and it was a hard time for me because I left everything. I decided when I finish my education and become an engineer I will go back to my country because engineers in Afghanistan are not educated so the buildings fall in earthquakes.

When I left my country I left everything from our house, family, friends. All of my family cried because I had left Afghanistan. My grandmother especially cried, and I felt like I was dying. She cried like that because I was the youngest person in our family and when she needed something she would call to me “Shaheen, bring this or that for me.” I think she believed  that I was a unique person for her. When I left my country it was a hard time for me because I left everything like death. Also it was a bad situation and I had to left my country because everything bad happened such as earthquakes killed people especially fall of buildings was a crazy thing that happened in my country.

But I decided when I finish my education and become an engineer, I will go back to Afghanistan because in my country there are no professional engineers who know how to build strong buildings. The problem is when an earthquake comes, buildings fall and people die. So I want to become a structural engineer because in Afghanistan engineers not educated and they don't know about the rules of making a building, and I want to teach them how to use the rules. I saw an earthquake that happened in my country. Buildings fell down and killed lots of people. It was a bad day in my country because many people lost their children under the buildings and many childrens lost their parents under the buildings. It was looked like doomsday. About 200 people death under the buildings. People cried and yelled. Itlooked like they left everything. It made me sad and I felt like I am a stone because I couldn't do anything for them. I promised to myself that next time I should prevent these kinds of dangers that kill people. So I will become a structural engineer in America and I will be qualified to teach engineering in Afghanistan. Also, I will work in America in structural engineer to get experience.

In conclusion because of these things that happened to people in my country I have decided that I will finish my education and become an engineer. I will go back to my country and teach the rule of engineering. The buildings will be better and maybe next time when earthquakes happen the buildings will be strong and will not fall down. This significant experience will help me to remember what happened in my past, and what I should do to walk through “door of opportunities”.

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My family immigrated from China to the United States in 2008. We had stepped off the plane knowing almost next to nothing about the American culture and language. Now, I am fluent in English and am somewhat knowledgeable about the American culture, and my parents’ knowledge of English had increased dramatically. How were we able to improve? This was because of the two [RT] home-based tutors that we have, and they’ve changed our lives.

We met Marissa, the tutor for my parents, six years ago. Our family’s first impression of Marissa was that she was very nice and patient. “She always has a smile on her face,” my mom commented after our first meeting. She is now a very close family friend, and we could talk about anything with her. Marissa was patient when explaining things to my parents, and she tries different ways of explaining until my parents understand fully. Marissa was instrumental in the improvement of my parents’ English; my mom could understand about 70% of things we say in English, and my father’s English oral skills improved too. My mom went from the most basic English class in City College to level five class. Marissa helped my father prepare for his job interview, and my father’s interview was successful. She helped me tremendously when I was completing my high school applications. Because of her help with my applications, I was accepted with lots of scholarship to a prestigious private high school. Through Marissa, we learned a lot more about the American culture, and it became easier for me to fit in with my friends. We often consulted her for advice on what was appropriate for different situations in America, and we often found her advice to be very helpful.

Deborah tutored me for about two years. Every meeting, she gave me worksheets that targeted my weak areas and strengthened my strong points. Soon, with her help, I went from an ESL student to being in the GATE program in my third year in the US. My progress was very rapid. I learned the materials needed for my grade level, which was fourth grade, and began to move on to the more challenging fifth grade level. This was all possible because of Deborah. She always came prepared with lots of assignments that pushed and challenged me, assignments that helped me grew as a learner.

Thank you, Refugee Transitions, for these two home based tutors. Because of them, our lives were changed for the better. More doors were opened to us, and more opportunities were presented for us to pursue.

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Click here to see Jyoti in the Pursuing Dreams film

I have only one life but I do have many dreams. My name is Jyoti and I am 23 years old. Before coming to the United States, I lived in Nepal in a refugee camp for 15 years. I was born in Bhutan and then there was a political situation where Bhutan’s government didn’t want Nepali people so a lot of families moved to Nepal. We were Nepali but from different country so both governments didn’t want to accept us so we lived in a refugee camp.

Moving to a new country is not always easy. When we first come here, we don’t know anything. We don’t know how to get a job. Most of us don’t speak the language. People say America is the land of opportunity. We come here for a better life. Sure, we can get there but getting there isn’t easy.

Refugee Transitions got involved with my family and I when I was in the 11th grade. We have this past life from our country and then we have to get to this new life. So Refugee Transitions is kind of like a bridge from between our past life and our new life.

My mom didn’t get a chance to go to school. Refugee Transitions assigned a tutor to her. Mari used to come to our family and teach my mom English. Life was hard. And then when this organization brought Mari to our family, it gave us hope. We got involved in each other’s life, it wasn’t just tutoring anymore. We kind of became a family. So it was like a fusion between two cultures and two families.

Without Mari I wouldn’t be able to go to college. College was one of those ways you can have that American dream. She gave me hope that I can do that if I worked hard. She actually didn’t say much, it was that she listened. That I had that someone who is listening to my problems and who actually cares if I succeed or not in my life.

I’m studying business management at San Francisco State University. When I graduate next year, I’m going to be the first one from my family to finish college.

Refugee Transitions helped me a lot and it has given me a lot in my life so I wanted to give back to my community. So this year I got a really good opportunity to tutor Oakland International High School students and then one of the girls one day came to me and asked if I could help her choreograph a dance and I was super excited because I love dancing. And now we have a whole group of girls dancing together. All my dance members are refugees from Nepal like I was so we share a similar experience. I feel like they can count on me as a mentor, or a tutor, or a friend, or a sister. That if they need anything I’m going to be there for them and I do hope that they know they can do anything because people do care about them and there will be help.

After finishing college, one of my biggest dreams is, I want to work where I can help people, that I can be useful in their life, and hopefully inspire them to be something they want to be.

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