Immigration at GLK-UAIS

Putting the “International” into Utica Academy for International Studies.


Getty Images

New Citizens Saying the Pledge of Allegiance

Sean Moss, Journalist

The United States is a nation of immigrants. Nearly all Americans, except for Native Americans, come from elsewhere. Today, one out of every four residents in the United States are either first- or second-generation immigrants. This high amount of immigration has contributed to the enrichment of United States culture, society, and economy. Today, they continue to successfully integrate into U.S. society and contribute to the diversity of ideas of our country. Even at GLK-UAIS, we have a variety of students and families from around the globe, ranging from Latin America, the Middle East, South Asia, Southwest Asia, Europe, and many other regions.

As I was researching this story, I had the privilege of interviewing several students about their experiences and those of their families regarding immigrating to the United States. While analyzing their responses, some of the common trends revealed themselves: some came as refugees fleeing from wars while others came for job opportunities.

Each person had various struggles to overcome in the hopes to improve their lives and the lives of their families.

A pro-immigration protest
A group of protestors march for immigration.

“How can I make it seem like I am not an immigrant?” -UAIS student

The biggest struggle that most students and their families faced was the cultural barrier between the U.S. and their home country. Some cultures emphasized less individual independence and more dependence on family. Additionally, there exists differences in beauty standards, food, language, sociability protocols, to mention a few. They felt the need to blend in, while facing pressure from their families to preserve their heritage. Nearly all interviewees struggled with this barrier, due to Americans unawareness of other cultures in other places.

For example, while in elementary school in America, an immigrant was asked if she had been shot at while she was fleeing the violence within her country. She felt disturbed by the lack of awareness from her classmate regarding the actual circumstances of her country. “Why would he think that shootings were an everyday occurrence in my life?” she thought. Unfortunately, many immigrants face this issue as well.

Along with significant cultural differences, language barriers for many immigrant students became clear when attending school. The pressure to assimilate into American society is very strong; especially in their education and interactions with fellow students. They asked themselves: “How can I make it seem like I am not an immigrant?”

These students had to become fluent in English in order to learn their subject material to communicate with others, while also being able to act as interpreters for their parents. What some people do not realize is that many students became bilingual or even trilingual as they integrated into American culture, like many other immigrants across the United States, but not without difficulty. For many of the participants, English was radically different from their original language, and most struggled with learning the alphabet, strange English grammar rules, and American slang.

“When you are an immigrant, you feel like two very different people. You try to be as American as possible while also being a member of your home country. This is something that many immigrants struggle with, and at the same time deal with not feeling accepted by either group.” -Farah Sabri (Grade 12), first generation immigrant from Iraq

What many students and their families did to integrate into American culture was to find groups of fellow people from their home countries, who had already integrated into the American lifestyle. Jaden Loy (Grade 12), a second generation immigrant from Hong Kong, recalled that his parents would not have adapted as well without “the strong influence from their Chinese church community”. Many other students communicated similar notions, stating that if they did not have a stepping-stone from their culture to the American one, they would have struggled even more than they already had.

Many immigrants wish that Americans were more accepting of immigrants. All of them expressed that if Americans became more open-minded about new ideas, the US would experience far less racism and discrimination. Most Asian-American participants mentioned the recent Atlanta spa shootings, where a man murdered 8 people, 6 of whom were Asian women, as an example of this. Situations like these, along with rising Anti-Asian sentiment from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, play major factors to the current hesitancy of Asians to move here.

All interviewees from non-Western countries said that they had experienced discrimination, either in the form of slurs or even negative stereotypes. Most had experienced this while out shopping with family or while hanging out with friends in public, and even sometimes at school through ignorance.

According to Precious Amuwha (Grade 11), a first generation immigrant from Nigeria and Racing Ahead President, overcoming these subtle injustices is essential to “fight for true equality alongside with Americans. After all, ignorance is the enemy of the people.” All participants agreed that if we embrace the differences, all of us will become stronger.

As part of the International Baccalaureate program and to enhance our own community, GLK-UAIS strives to encourage diversity and international mindedness. To reach this goal, our school has started an initiative called Racing Ahead, in which we as a school community endeavor to educate, communicate, and participate as people from diverse backgrounds.

In Racing Ahead, student members will participate in initiating and planning educational opportunities for the UAIS student body to grow and understand one another on a deeper level. This includes educating ourselves and others regarding current as well as historical events related to racial inequity in our country and its impact; sharing knowledge with others; appropriately discussing difficult topics, and actively listening to others with an open mind.


An anti-immigrant marches down a street
An anti-immigrant marches down a street.

“Ignorance is the enemy of the people” -Precious Amuwha (Grade 11)

If you do not know how to best help those who have immigrated, here are some ways that you can help:
  • Learn about other cultures and the ways that people live, even if they may seem radically different from your culture
  • Develop an interest in the history and current events of places in the world
  • Be aware that many immigrants struggle to learn English, so be kind
  • Reach out to your community, be involved in cultural organizations and volunteer for charities and groups that help immigrants
  • Put their home country’s flag up in the cafeteria because that is awesome

Many thanks to those that took the Microsoft Forms sheet and to those that I interviewed. Without your help, this story would have not been possible.