By: Gigi, recent college graduate with Political Science degree
This is the second post in a the Refugee Youth Voices series that is uplifting the voices of young people with refugee- and immigrant-backgrounds.
- This post is part of the Refugee Youth Voices blog series in partnership with the Refugees Pursuing Education And Community Excellence (R_PEACE) coalition.
- Students from R_PEACE are sharing their experiences from having a refugee background and now being in the United States.
- Gigi talks about her life in Afghanistan before her family had to relocate to Kyrgyzstan.
My name is Gigi, and I’m originally from Afghanistan. My family and I left our home country in 2007 when I was 8 years old. We temporarily relocated to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan before moving to the USA in 2014. The motivation behind sharing my experience is to shed light on the fact that people like me do not come to the USA solely for a better life; it is primarily for our safety, as our lives were in great danger. I hope to reach a diverse audience because I want to be a voice for others facing similar challenges.
My Homeland of Afghanistan
Now, let me transport you to life in Afghanistan.
Life in Afghanistan was beautiful. I have beautiful memories of our family gatherings and the warmth of our culture.
Let me share a specific example: my grandparents’ houses. They had two houses, one in the city and the other in a village. Because my grandfather was a farmer, both houses had spacious yards and extensive gardens. They cultivated a variety of flowers, vegetables, and fruits. My mother has ten siblings, and seven of them were married at that time, with kids our age. When we visited our grandparents’ houses, which was very often, we had the most wonderful and unforgettable times of our lives. Now that I think about it, it was like being in paradise—the most beautiful houses with enchanting gardens that filled the air with fragrant aromas, and kids playing around while the adults had heartwarming conversations together.
However, life also presented us with overwhelming challenges. My father, a successful currency exchange businessman, often found himself in the crosshairs of dangerous mafia groups. They would come to our house demanding money, and at times, they would even ask for my sisters, me or our girl cousins. However, my father never allowed them even a glimpse of us. We were young but fully aware of the gravity of these situations, as these groups were usually armed.
Going to school was another test. My father would instruct my sister and I to walk separately, one of us ahead of the other, so that if one was kidnapped, the other could escape. Those words are engraved in my memory forever.
Journey of Survival in Kyrgyzstan
Because Afghanistan was so dangerous for us, we had to flee our country to stay safe. Leaving behind everything we had in our homeland, we began on a journey of survival in Kyrgyzstan. We had to adapt to a new language, learn a different culture, and integrate into a society that was not our own. Challenges, like extremely cold winter nights and not having enough food, tested how tough we were.
Slowly but surely, we overcame these obstacles. We became proficient in Russian and Kyrgyz, excelled in school, and achieved numerous awards. During this time, my father’s business in Kyrgyzstan also began to flourish.
However, despite our achievements, we faced limitations in Kyrgyzstan because we were not native Kyrgyz or Russian. This eventually led us to make the decision to move to the United States when our case was accepted by the USCIS.
What I Learned
Our time in Kyrgyzstan significantly shaped my worldview. It showed me how important it is:
- To be able to adjust to changes,
- Keep going even when things are tough, and
- To never give up, no matter the challenges we face.
My parents taught us that no matter where life takes you, with determination and hard work, you can overcome the most overwhelming challenges.
Stay tuned to this Refugee Youth Voices blog series to read more from Gigi on her experience in moving to the USA and how she is thriving!
Please note that pseudonyms are being used to protect the student writers and their family’s safety as part of this Refugee Youth Voices blog series.
Author Bio: Gigi is part of a group of college students from refugee-backgrounds that formed a coalition called R_PEACE (Refugees Pursuing Education And Community Excellence). R_PEACE creates content by using a critical literacy perspective, telling their counter-stories regarding access and entry into college, and disseminating information. The goal is to increase access to college for other refugees via three avenues: live speaking events in non-profit organizations serving refugees, a multilingual brochure, and through social media.