By Doo Yong Shim | New Organizing Project blogger
Excitement. Assumptions about the American Dream. No doubt. Realizations. And Uncertainty. What’s next?
These are the things I have experienced in the United States as an immigrant student. At first, as a nine-year old child, I was only excited about the unknown and new mysterious places, where new friends, new food, and a new life were awaiting me.
With the hope of achieving the so-called American dream, my family began a new life without specific plans. As naïve victims who were exposed to the false image of America, when we first set our foot in the U.S., we assumed that we would have a nice home, friendly neighbors, access to the world’s best education, and well-paying jobs.
However, we realized that there were limitations for immigrant families. My parents had to work in physically demanding work environments to keep the family together while my sister and I had to assimilate to the U.S., perform well in school, and learn English. We also had to find a sponsor for our immigration in order to receive permanent residency cards. Some business owners took advantage of our unstable immigration status to treat my parents unfairly with low wages. Neither my parents nor I have ever doubted living a successful life in the U.S., but every time I faced unfair situations, I realized that reality was different from my dreams, that the hopes my family brought to the U.S. were just a dream.
During the U.S. economic crisis in year 2007, my family’s financial needs became greater and we still did not have permanent residency cards. Eventually, my sister could not continue attending college after high school graduation. She had to defer educational goals and work full-time for tuition. Economic and immigration status instabilities made me the fear my uncertain future.
My immigration status and family situations were unstable for close to 10 years, so I was aware that I may not be able to go to college right after high school. Many scholarships and opportunities were only for U.S. citizens or other individuals, whose qualifications I did not have. However, I knew that I could not let any hardships hold me down from striving to my dream.
Despite knowing that, it was not easy to overcome obstacles that were bringing down my confidence. I was frequently reminded that I was different from others, including other immigrant students whose parents already planned and prepared for their immigration long before they came to the U.S. At times, I complained and wept about my unfortunate situations, but I endured by participating in many activities and reaching out for help with a core belief that “Heaven helps those who help themselves.”
I was actively involved in community and school while also working hard at my academics. But one day during my senior year in high school, I had a chance to engage in a conversation about plans after college with one of my friends who was in a similar immigration situation. That friend straightforwardly told me that my plans for college are a “useless and meaningless” effort; therefore, I should start looking for a full-time job instead, because I would not have financial support to attend college anyways.
That conversation was short. But it left another realization, of depression and anger.
I was not depressed or angry because of what he said, but because I knew about my situation all too well and had to realize that I would have very little chance of attending college right after high school. I had almost convinced myself that a college education would be a luxury for me in my uncertain and unstable situation.
However, I was able to overcome this thought when I thought about my achievements, which I was also uncertain about before giving them a try. So, immediately, I began searching for colleges that offered scholarships to immigrant students (who had to apply as internationals). I worked hard for scholarships and admission, and in the end, made another achievement through my determination.
To fellow immigrant students who may be feeling depressed because of unstable situations: please do not ever feel discouraged and have confidence and determination. Through my family struggles, there is one thing I learned – uncertainty is everywhere. No one can be certain about the future, and no one has control over the future. However, we all have control of ourselves.
Many of us experience five elements of this immigration process: Excitement. Assumptions about the American Dream. No doubt. Realization. And Uncertainty.
Let me ask you again, what’s next?
Hope and determination.
We are all uncertain, but we can be determined.