Immigrating to the United States was different for Dhara. Dhara was born in the United States, but spent most of her childhood growing up in Pune, India. She moved to the U.S. in June of 2011, a year after she began high school.
Unlike many immigrants, Dhara had a full support system of extended family near Livonia, Michigan, where she arrived. With no set home in mind at that time, Dhara and her family were readily welcomed into her uncle’s home.
For Dhara, moving was not the true surprise.
“It didn’t really feel like I was in a new country,” she recalls. Dhara had visited the U.S. many times before to see family. She “felt like [she] was on vacation for the first three months.”
For Dhara, the real ‘first day’ began when she started high school. Dhara’s prior conceptions of school in the United States centered around exaggerated depictions of high school on television.
The vacation soon ended for Dhara as she soon experienced the challenges of not only being the ‘new girl’ in high school, but also being a misinterpreted international student.
“I remember being put in the ESL class even though we told them [the school administrators] that we were fluent in English since we were four years old.” After countless meetings with guidance counselors, Dhara was finally able to be in classes that she wanted.
However, not all transitions were as smooth as Dhara’s academic transition.
“My first teacher wholeheartedly complimented me on my English. Was that supposed to be a compliment? And I remember everyone being eager to interact with the French kid who was also an international student, but no one really approached me for a while. I remember the first six months of lunch being really hard. It took me until second semester of junior year to have a solid group of friends.”
Despite the initial challenges of high school, many of Dhara’s comments return to the support of her family network. Her cousins and relatives were always there to guide her and her family. She remembers never being in want of anything because they were always there.
Dhara fondly recalls how “the biggest thing they [her relatives] gave us was emotional support.”
Even in a new country, Dhara had a piece of home with her, and that made all the difference.