Other stories filed under Features
New school environment challenges immigrants
January 28, 2019
The classroom looked the same. The desks and chairs looked the same. The brightly colored posters and writing on the whiteboard looked the same.
But it wasn’t the same.
The second-grade classroom looked so similar to her classroom last year, but everything about it was completely new. She was in another country, of course. It was all too much to handle, and she burst into tears.
Many of these immigrants are students who have attended school in another country.
All students know the feeling of walking into class on the first day of school, nervous about how the day will go, wondering whether any of their friends will be in their class. While students experience it every school year, many of them don’t face it with an added complication: going to school in a completely different country.
Shane Largo, a sophomore at Carlmont, moved to the Bay Area from the Philippines at the start of the 2017-2018 school year.
“I was kind of excited to go to school but more nervous because it was a new environment, and I didn’t have a lot of friends,” Largo said.
When Largo first arrived at Carlmont, she was placed in an English Language Learner’s Class (ELL), a class for students to develop their English language skills.
After a few weeks, she was tested and transferred out of the ELL class. She decided to get out of her comfort zone and join as many clubs as she could. She even applied for ASB. Though eventually she made friends, she still recalls the difficulty of the situation.
“I tried, but people had relationships already because they had been together for such a long time. I was new, and it was hard to get into a new circle of friends,” Largo said.
Largo acknowledged the similarities in behavior between people in the U.S. and in the Philippines. However, she also noted some differences.
Largo said that the way people dressed where she grew up in the Philippines was more conservative. She also noticed that students in her classes tended to have less restrictive parents.
“The parents in the Philippines generally are really strict. My parents wouldn’t allow me to go to the night events at Carlmont. People here are freer, I guess,” Largo said.
Largo makes up one of the 1.9 million people who have immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines. Even though this may seem like a lot, immigrants from the Philippines make up only 4.4 percent of the total immigrant population in the U.S., according to Pew Research Center.
Sofia Pompen, a sophomore at Sequoia, moved to the Bay Area in sixth grade after attending a Montessori school in Hong Kong. Her parents are expatriates, or people who live of outside their native country.
The international school that Pompen attended had many children whose parents had also traveled a lot. Because of this, there was a lot of diversity in the classroom.
“People didn’t really care what you looked like. It was kinda just like, ‘Okay here is this person and they look different from me,’ but you didn’t really notice that. It didn’t really matter,” Pompen said.
Pompen recalled her first day of school and said that though she was confused by the changing classes, she was able to get the hang of it.
“My experience was pretty good because lots of people came up to me and introduced themselves to me. They were really friendly. I wasn’t really that different because I spoke English well,” Pompen said.
About 69.8 percent of the foreign-born population who are younger than 18 years old in the United States speak English very well according to Pew Research Center. The remaining 30.2 percent speak English less than very well.
For Maria Robinson, a teacher at Carlmont who attended school in a small village and then later in a small town in Mexico, language was one of the hardest parts of her move to the United States.
Robinson teaches Spanish classes at Carlmont, which allows her to compare and contrast school in Mexico and in the United States.
She has noticed that funding for schools and the economic support for students tends to be larger in the United States.
“Over there [in Mexico] they had scholarships. However, they were very limited, so it was almost unheard of that people would get sports scholarships,” Robinson said.
Robinson also noted similarities between the behaviors of students in the U.S. and those of students in Mexico.
“Elementary kids are squirrelly; teenagers are interested in a lot of the same things: fashion, who is popular, groups, and sports. The way they interact is just human behavior,” Robinson said.
Though cultures have their differences, they also have their similarities. Being in a new environment can be intimidating at first, but as one starts to adjust, similarities can be seen everywhere.
Largo reflected on her experience in the United States.
“I feel like it is not that different. The people here treat me nicely, and they are really friendly. They want people to feel like they are accepted and welcome,” Largo said.
The first day of second grade for the girl had been very stressful. As had the second day. And the third. But every day it had become better, and she began to adjust.
One day, the girl’s mom picked her up from school and took her to get lunch.
“I would like a cheeseburger,” said the girl’s mom to the cashier.
“Sorry, what?” the cashier said.
The mom turned around to grin mischievously at the girl. Then, she turned back to face the cashier.
“May I please have a cheeze-burg-er?” she said in her very best American accent.
The girl had lost her accent years ago, and she seldom thought about how she had moved in second grade. Her mom’s accent contrasting with the exaggerated American one reminded her of that first day of school.
And although she remembered how uncomfortable and different her second grade classroom had felt, it would no longer bother her.