Editors’ Note: Heman Rai is a graduating senior attending Digital Harbor High School. Originally from Nepal, Heman connected to Soccer Without Borders, the project of 2011 Baltimore Community Fellow Jill Pardini, upon arriving to Baltimore. Read more about Jill’s work.
Today it has been exactly four years that I have been in the United States. I am practicing soccer with my friends in the field near my apartment. It is sunny, we all are sweaty, and I am thinking about how I used to play soccer like this in back in Nepal with my cousins. Now I play soccer with friends from all over the world. We understand each other because we love soccer. We have similar backgrounds: some friends are like me, born in a refugee camp, some are war refugees, and some came looking for asylum. Four years ago I never thought I would have friends from different countries, speak English, live in the United States, and have an opportunity to attend college in America.
I was born in a refugee camp in Nepal. I never imagined I would go to college because the camp only offered 1st to 10th grade. After 10th grade, most students got married, and some attended higher education outside the camp. When I was small, my father used to tell stories of scientists, like Albert Einstein, who changed the world. If someone asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I used to say “a scientist,” but I knew that was impossible because I lived in a refugee camp. When I was in 5th grade, we heard that the USA was going resettle 60,000 Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal. My father decided to go to America for a better life and filed an application. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) called us within three months, but it still took another two years to complete the process.
On September 18, 2008, our time came to leave. I was sad to leave friends, relatives, and the place I lived for 13 years. The hardest thing was to say goodbye. On September 24, 2008, we arrived in the United States. I remember getting off the plane at BWI airport. My sister and I had lost weight, and my parents’ faces were so tired. We didn’t know where the exit was. A tall, white man with his hat in his hand (who, I realize now, was the pilot) showed us the way out from the plane and where to get our bags. Our caseworker was waiting for us and introduced himself in Nepali.
We spent the next couple of days settling into our new home in Baltimore with help from the caseworker. The caseworker enrolled us in school. They put me in 8th grade; I had not yet finished 7th grade. The school put me in an ESOL class where I felt at home because there were students from Iraq, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and my own camp in Nepal. We all struggled with English. The more I practiced, the easier things got for me, but things weren’t getting easier for my parents. They didn’t find a job for eight months.
Through this resettlement process I learned that I have to be a responsible person because my parents work hard to put food on the table. I have to look after my sister, study, and go to school every day. I really relate to this expression: “It does not matter where you start, but what matters is where you will end.” I didn’t start well, not because I chose this but because I was born in a difficult situation, but what I can do is work hard, keep my grades high, and get a college degree. I can be successful with a college degree and help my parents who work so hard, and others like me, who came to America as refugees, starting new lives. Despite the many challenges of resettlement, I have the opportunity to go to college and can become a scientist or anything else I dream of.