Southern has a large population of immigrant and first generation American students, mirroring the population of its home in New Haven, a sanctuary city.
The first steps of leaving one’s home country are usually difficult, but all immigrants have a different story to share about their journey. Accounting major Sameed Iqbal, a senior and immigrant from Qatar, says the process of immigrating took a very long time.
“My family had applied for a green card visa before I was born,” Iqbal says. “The process took about 17 years to hear back from and got approved then. [My family immigrated] in order to have better job opportunities and education.”
While some, like Iqbal, immigrate for better careers and schools, some do so to escape from hardship. English major Daria Kraszewska, a senior and first generation Polish-American, says that her father “never imagined staying in Poland his whole life” because of the struggles of life behind communist Russia’s iron curtain 30 years ago.
“His mission was to get a ticket to America to get out of Poland. He said [the trip] was terrible, because he had to work on the boat while arriving to [the United States ],” Kraszewska says. “Communism was supposedly abolished, however, many people continued to follow the order. It made neighbors go against neighbors, and both my parents stated that it was a dangerous place where work was scarce, and that there was no future to achieve.”
Iqbal states that being in America helps him branch out and actualize his hobbies and passions.
“I have joined a fraternity, joined clubs, been a part of Active Minds, have had numerous jobs, [and] I trade in stocks in my spare time,” Iqbal said. “You can’t have a bank account in Qatar unless you have more than $3,640 on hand and should never get below that, but here you can start a bank account at $5 minimum.”
While the capitalist market in the United States may be more laissez-faire than in other countries, pre-nursing major Angel Garcia, a freshman and immigrant from the Philippines, says the school system is as well.
“In the Philippines, they really force you—actually, they kind of torture you—to do some work, but here if you don’t do it it’s your responsibility. If you’re going to fail, that’s your job,” Garcia said.
However, Garcia also states that her time in school in the United States was difficult at first due to adjusting to a new country and social atmosphere.
“It’s sad, because my life is [in the Philippines]. I was born and raised there, and then coming here, I was happy at first because I was going to be with my mom, but then when I started going to school, I started feeling sad because I [had] nobody to [socialize] with,” Garcia says. “When I [went] to school in the Philippines I had my friends around me, like, to play and talk and gossip and stuff.”
English major Jacqueline Fuentes, a senior and first generation Honduran/Mexican-American, says, because of the lack of education her parents received in their home countries, her education was largely up to her.
“My mom, she knows a few words; my dad knows more because of work. He has a fourth grade education and my mom has a high school education. When I got to college and things got harder, [school became] even harder to talk about,” Fuentes said.
“They can’t help me in any way, they don’t know I struggle in school—and I can’t tell them, because that’s the whole reason they came here. When I struggle in school I say, ‘I’m going to get through it, because I’m going to do it for them’.”
Not only is a school’s social climate difficult to adjust to for someone completely new to the United States, but the social climate and culture of an entire new country can be even more daunting.
“The variety in groceries, how people behave with each other, trending hangout spots for young adults, and job opportunities were greatly different from Qatar. In Qatar, [the] main religion that is followed is Islam. I used to see people in [Arabic-style] get up daily, but that all changed when I came to [the United States],” says Iqbal.
For some, even those who have lived their entire lives in the United States but entrenched in foreign culture, cultural and societal aspects can prove to be very different. Growing up in a largely Latinx and Hispanic part of New Haven, Fuentes says she did not experience much other culture.
“First off, the language. At home, we speak Spanish. The music is different [that] we listen to, it’s not just that the music’s in Spanish, but there’s also a lot of different instruments in there and rhythms,” says Fuentes.
“I didn’t really grow up on American food, at home it would only be, like, Mexican food. I didn’t know meatloaf was a real thing until recently, because I didn’t grow up on that kind of food. I thought it was only on [television].”
Fuentes adds that the culture shock did not end there, and she met completely different people in college as well.
“I’ve always been around other people that were like me. Southern is my first experience even being around white people. It was kind of a culture-shock, especially being in classrooms where I’m sometimes the only person of color,” she says.
Some, like Iqbal, say that they miss their home countries and visit often. Iqbal says he visits Qatar once per year to see family and friends, and Kraszewska says she goes to Poland with her family for special events around every three to five years.
Others do not visit as often. Fuentes has visited Mexico once, and Garcia has not yet been able to make the trip back to the Philippines.
“I like it better there. If I’m stable financially, I have a job, everything’s all set—I would go back,” Garcia said. “Not [to], like, stay there. I would, like, visit, but I will stay here for good.”
While these students all differ greatly in their personal experiences regarding their cultural and ethnic identities in America, the one thing they share between them is pride in their respective cultures.
Fuentes says she loves the language and music from her Mexican heritage. She adds that, while Americans can enjoy Mexican music, she “can appreciate it on a different level.”
“I love the language; I think everything sounds better in Spanish. Also, I can listen to twice as much music as [monolingual people] can,” she says. “I love to dance, but my definition of dancing is different. When it comes to music here, I have no rhythm—but I’ll kill a cumbia.”
Kraszewska says that she enjoys the social culture of her Polish heritage the most.
“I love being Polish; I enjoy how important family and friends [are],” Kraszewska says. “I am a person who loves to be surrounded by family and friends, so win-win.”