Monday, June 18, 2012

Taking a LEAP into the Unknown

LEAP High School, St. Paul, MN

Moving can be disorienting, frightening, and just plain exhausting. I know, since I’m getting my family ready for a cross-country move in a few days. But as overwhelming as it can be, my experience pales against that of young immigrants.

Recently I spent part of a morning interviewing three students at LEAP High School in St. Paul. It’s a school just for newly arrived immigrants. During the current school year, at least twenty different languages are spoken at LEAP. (Although only about four or five major ones are typically used during daily announcements on the public address system.)

I talked with a boy from Ethiopia, a girl from Vietnam, and a Burmese girl who came to this country from a refugee camp in Thailand. Each had a unique perspective. The boy spoke of the challenges of finding other kids to play with. The girl who had spent time in a refugee camp was relieved that she could travel freely, without having to ask permission—or pay bribes. And the Vietnamese girl spoke of the hardships of her first days as an immigrant, when her parents came home sad and upset over not yet finding work. (Things are better now, she reassured me.)

I’ll be sharing more of these immigrant tales in an upcoming issue of Cobblestone magazine. The May/June 2013 issue is devoted to the new face of immigration, and these interviews will be part of a feature story on immigrant kids present and past.

What struck me the most during the interviews? The students’ incredible bravery. It was humbling to hear their stories and imagine their challenges—yet see the joy and determination in their faces. They’re taking a leap into the unknown and clearly growing in the process.

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