Starting school in a new country: a refugee youth's success story
As children all over the country pack their backpacks and set their alarms again for the first days back at school, the IRC in Salt Lake City wanted to take a closer look at the unique experiences of refugee youth starting out in the U.S. school system.
The first weeks at school in a foreign land is a time marred with confusion and anxiety for many refugee students. They were uprooted. The language is unfamiliar, the system daunting. There are so many things which come so naturally to the rest of their peers that complicate and frustrate. Yet, as any case worker or education professional will tell you, many refugees rise to the tops of their classes against seemingly insurmountable odds. One such student, an Iraqi refugee named Ikram, shared her story with us. Ikram was resettled by the IRC in Salt Lake City just two years ago and already has a stellar academic achievement record. She reflected on an education interrupted by conflict and strife, and on rising up to meet every challenge in the tireless pursuit of her dreams.
Ikram was resettled in Utah in 2009 at the age of 16 and began school shortly after. She recalled a difficult beginning, struggling not only to communicate but also to connect with other students. The frustration of isolation and being misunderstood weighed Ikram down but she never allowed it to overwhelm her. What she lacked in English skills she made up for with courage, direction, and a drive to learn.
When speaking with Ikram another perspective on her story surfaced, that of her father, Raed. He recounted his experiences trying to secure the best educational opportunities for his children stating that he can only wish his English skills were sufficient to help with homework but he conscientiously does everything else he can to ensure his children's success.
Ikram and her father explained how those that reached out made all the difference during the difficult time of adjustment. Certain teachers, especially in the ESL department of her high school, showed genuine concern for her well being. Counselors at the school helped Ikram both process the darker moments of her past and make dreams of a college education a reality.
An aspiring cardiologist, medical school is not just a dream for Ikram, it is a plan she has been carefully working towards for years. The experience of her father being hospitalized for injuries sustained in war is her motivation to gain education to save lives.
Ikram is certainly well on her way down that path, having earned nine recognitions for her academic achievement already. Education is empowerment for her, she emphasized the importance of using every opportunity she is presented with. Navigating the education system was hardly the easiest part of the already difficult resettlement process but Ikram’s gaze is fixed on her brilliant future ahead.
Ikram graduated from high school on the Honor Roll and is now on the pre-med track to medical school attending college on a scholarship. Her entire family including her parents are working to get the education they dreamed of.
By Barbara Roth, IRC Summer Intern