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Home Away From Home

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Home Away From Home

North Allegheny is home to a wider array of cultures than many expect.

North Allegheny is home to a wider array of cultures than many expect.

photo by Katie Golden

North Allegheny is home to a wider array of cultures than many expect.

photo by Katie Golden

photo by Katie Golden

North Allegheny is home to a wider array of cultures than many expect.

By Katie Golden, North Allegheny Senior High School

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The vast majority of students who walk our halls have lived in NA for all their lives.  NA has always been home, and graduations from elementary school to middle school and from middle school to high school have felt as natural as the change of seasons.

That’s not to say that life in Wexford has always been easy, but it certainly could be harder.  For some students at NASH, home is a tricky subject, often split between two distant worlds.

We met up with four students who arrived at North Allegheny from far away and yet have come to make a home of western PA.

Giulia Brancato

What country are you from?

 Brazil.

Do you speak more than one language? If so, which ones?

I speak Portuguese as my first language and English as my second language.

How many years ago did you immigrate here?

Almost two years ago.

photo by Katie Golden

What is your current citizen status?

I have a green card.

How hard was the immigration process?

It takes a very long time to get a green card. Because we were moving for my mom’s job, it was easier for us, but we were nervous about if we were going to be accepted or not. Waiting for a green card takes a lot of patience. I know someone who applied for a green card two years ago and is still waiting for it to be approved.

Socially, moving here was also hard. I did take 13 years of English at my school in Brazil, but it was just basic English. Everyone talks so fast here! It was hard, but you get used to it.

Why did your family decide to leave the country?

My mom’s job got transferred and it was a better opportunity for all of us.

What has your experience in America and at North Allegheny been like?

When I lived in Brazil, it was a really small school. We didn’t have as much opportunity as we do here. Since NA is so big, there are so many classes and you can choose your own schedule. It’s really different, but it’s really good.

Have you visited Brazil since you moved to the US?

The first time I went back to Brazil was in 2017 for Christmas and New Years. We all missed each other so much and were so glad to see everyone. It was really hard to come back here because it’s summer in Brazil and winter in Pittsburgh. I was going to the beach and getting tan on Christmas break then I had to come back to snow.

We went back this year too and it was the same amazing experience, getting to see everyone again and celebrating.

The food there was amazing as always. I was eating like crazy the whole time. I love the fresh juice there. Since you don’t have that here, I try to drink as much as I can when I’m there.

Is there anything that you miss from Brazil?

Almost everything. I have friends and family who all still live in Brazil. My dad lives there because my parents are divorced, so I really miss him.

The food. Oh my gosh, the food there. I can’t even pick what I miss the most because it’s all so amazing.

What’s the biggest difference in school life?

Everything. In Brazil, you’re in a class of 20-30 students and the teachers change classes while you stay in the same room. We have mandatory classes and we don’t get to pick anything. It’s really hard in Brazil. Here you have sciences 9th-biology, 10-chemistry, 11-physics. When I got to sophomore year, I had three branches of chemistry, three branches of physics, and three branches of math all at the same time. We had really hard stuff every day. Here, it’s more flexible, allowing you to pick what you want to do in your future.

One thing that I liked at school there is the familiarity with your classmates. Since you’re with everyone, you get to know everybody. You get to be friends with everyone.

Is there any change in the way people act or behave here?

In Brazil, people are warmer and friendlier towards each other. Here, people are more individual and keep to themselves. It’s two very different cultures with different manners and everything.

Do you get to go out more or are there more things to do?

The big difference is that everything here closes really early. In Brazil restaurants would close around midnight or 1AM. My family eats dinner at home around 10PM, but everyone around here is like “It’s 5PM! Let’s have dinner!” So it’s different.

Here you definitely need a car to go out to eat and have fun. Where I lived, you could get everywhere by walking.

How is the location different? 

I hate the cold. I have to say that. Brazil is a tropical country, so we don’t get snow. Our version of cold is like spring or fall here. It’s different because we don’t have heaters in our houses. When it would get chilly, we would go inside and just be really cold. It’s a big change because here it snows and half the year is winter.

I went to Chile once, so I had seen snow, but I had never seen it falling. It was really cool and really pretty.

Also having snow days is really nice.

What is the greatest opportunity you’ve had at North Allegheny?

The counselors. They really help us see what we can do and they can open doors for us.

NA has a lot of field trips, and I got to visit Kent State. We don’t have those kinds of trips and experiences in Brazil.

What is your favorite memory at North Allegheny?

Meeting different people. It’s a big school, so there are different cultures and so many people. I didn’t take ESL (English as a Second Language), but I get to know a lot of foreign students anyway and everyone is so nice and inclusive.

Marvel Moniaga

What country are you from?

Indonesia.

Do you speak more than one language? If so, which ones?

Yes, Indonesian and English.

photo by Katie Golden

How many years ago did you immigrate here?

I immigrated here in 2004.

What is your current citizenship status?

I’m not a citizen yet. I just have a permanent residency card.

How hard was the immigration process?

I don’t really remember because I was so young, but I do remember that it was hard to fit in. I got bullied in preschool because I didn’t speak English.

Why did your family decide to leave the country?

They wanted me to have better opportunities.

What has your experience in America and at North Allegheny been like?

Very privileged.

Have you visited Indonesia since you moved to the US?

I’ve visited four times and every time I go back I realize how lucky I am to live in the US instead of there.

Is there anything you miss from Indonesia?

I have a lot of family still living there, so I don’t get to see them very often.

What’s the biggest difference in school life?

Since I moved here so young, I don’t know anything about school in Indonesia.

Is there any change in the way people act or behave here?

Their life goals are a little bit different. In Indonesia, you’re just trying to survive and get through the day, but here you worry about first-world problems. You don’t have to think about when your next meal is going to be or if you’re going to get a job.

Do you get to go out more or are there more things to do?

There are a lot more things to do here since most of Indonesia is extremely polluted and dangerous.

How is the location different? 

I can see the sky. There’s green instead of pollution in the sky and dead fish in the sea.

What is the greatest opportunity you’ve had at North Allegheny?

There are a lot more choices in the classes here, and the equipment that we have is really high quality.

What is your favorite memory at North Allegheny?

The orchestra trip to Myrtle Beach last year.

Jouke van Westrenen

What country are you from?

The Netherlands.

photo by Katie Golden

Do you speak more than one language? If so, which ones?

Yes, I do. I speak Dutch, German, and English.

How many years ago did you immigrate here?

About 6 months ago. I moved here over the summer.

What is your current citizenship status?

I’m an L2 visa holder (an L-2 visa is for a dependent spouse or child under 21 of an L-1 visa holder) and a citizen of the Netherlands.

How hard was the immigration process?

Because it was all through my dad’s company, it wasn’t that hard to get a visa. We just needed to fill out all of the paperwork.

Why did your family decide to leave the country?

My dad got a job in Pittsburgh working at an (ethylene) cracker plant near Beaver.

 

What has your experience in America and at North Allegheny been like?

It’s been great. The teachers here are very caring. It can be difficult socially, especially since I came here as a senior and I have to start everything over again senior year. Making friends has been a challenge for me because this is such a big school and there are so many people. Finding people to go out with and do social activities with is hard.

Have you visited the Netherlands since you moved the US?

Yes, it was during Christmas. It was fun to see all of my friends and family again after half a year. I celebrated with my family and then I played laser tag and went to a movie with my friends. I just had a great time.

Is there anything you miss from the Netherlands?

Biking to school. Everybody bikes to school in the Netherlands since we don’t have school buses. I miss biking with friends in the morning then going places after school.

Is there any change in the way people act or behave here?

People in the Netherlands keep more to themselves, while people here are more open and very friendly towards one another.

What’s the biggest difference in school life?

The whole system is different. In our system, after 6th grade, all the students get divided into three groups and follow a certain path. Here, you can choose your own subjects, which is better and more merit-based compared to just being in the system in the Netherlands. If you are on one of the lower paths, you can get a C and it’s seen as okay.

Do you get to go out more or are there more things to do?

No, but I think it’s different. A lot of students here just go to restaurants together, which I am not used to. We would go to the supermarket and buy some candy or chocolate and then just hang out together. So it is different, but similar in some ways. It’s hard for me to compare.

How is the location different? 

This is more of a land climate and I’m used to the sea climate. The Netherlands is close to the sea and gets a lot of rain the whole year. Here, the climate changes a lot with the seasons and it can get very cold or very hot. I was not very used to the snow and I got to experience it a lot this year.

What’s the greatest opportunity you’ve had at North Allegheny?

That’s a hard question. Maybe the subjects that I was able to choose. I didn’t meet all the requirements because I wasn’t following the same courses at my school. I was technically unqualified for the subjects I choose, but they gave me the opportunity to take all of the AP classes that I’m doing this year.

What is your favorite memory at North Allegheny?

I’ve only been here for half a year, but I would have to say when I went to New York. It was with Mr. Truesdell for the Actors’ Society trip and we visited all around the city. It was definitely a highlight of my year.

Parastoo Aramesh

What country are you from?

photo by Katie Golden

Iran.

Do you speak more than one language? If so, which one(s)?

I speak English, Farsi (or Persian), and I’m learning French at school, but that doesn’t really count.

What is your current citizen status?

I am a U.S. citizen.

How many years ago did you immigrate here?

I permanently immigrated here about five years ago.

How hard was the immigration process?

We actually were relatively lucky and it wasn’t as hard for us as it was for a lot of other people. It was still difficult because of where we were immigrating from — a middle eastern country.  My dad taught at a university related to the government, which made the process more difficult for us. My uncle was a pharmacist, so he wasn’t related to the government and they got their visas much faster. My family had to wait for about six months longer.

Why did your family decide to leave the country?

Originally, we stayed here for short amounts to visit family. After going back and forth so many times, we saw that we couldn’t maintain this back-and-forth travel. We noticed a difference between the two countries and decided that if we were going to choose one, it would be here where we could have a better future.

What has your experience in America and at North Allegheny been like?

Fantastic! Everyone is very nice. It’s been good and I enjoy it.

Have you visited Iran since you moved the US?

Yes. I go back every summer, sometimes for as long as two months or as short as one week. It’s very interesting. Some people say that I have an accent now and I’m definitely treated as “the one who comes from America” whenever I visit. I go back with my family a lot just to see family and everything. I would not be able to survive on my own there, walking around the street and going to a store.

I notice the changes more significantly. I’m not in the environment as it changes. I come to America, the changes happen, and then I go back and see them. I’ve really noticed a decline in the economy, but I’ve also seen the good changes like people getting more freedoms and being able to express themselves more. We have a lot of coffee shops now and we have our own McDonalds. It’s not technically legal because of copyright stuff, but that doesn’t exist in Iran.

Is there anything you miss from Iran?

Yes, the bread. We have amazing bread and we don’t make toast like Americans. In the morning sometimes we would go to the bakery and buy freshly baked bread. It’s completely different. In the bakery, some of the bread would be half my height and it is so much better that way.

I miss those in my family who still live in Iran, and I miss going to family gatherings. I also miss the interactions with people there because it’s just a whole different environment.

What is the biggest difference in school life?

I’ve come to the conclusion that in any country the school system reflects the government system. In America, students have representatives, they have organizations, they can comfortably talk to a teacher or counselor, and they can get their voices heard. Just like the government. In Iran, it’s a lot more like a dictatorship. The administrators and the teachers have a lot more power and there is a love/fear relationship with the students.

Another thing that is different that we share with a lot of the rest of the world is that we don’t change classes every period. The teacher changes, but the students stay in the same classroom. As we went through classes we would become a whole big family. Everyone got invited to the other students’ birthdays. We would have our own group, and it made the dynamic with the other students a lot different.

Is there any change in the way people act or behave here?

Oh yes. People are like more … I don’t want to say nicer and that people from Iran are rude … more smiling when they see you. For example, greetings are a lot more formal. In America, you say “Hi!” and you hug each other. In Iran, you ask about the family, you ask about the children, you ask about other relatives, and it’s a lot closer because of that, but still very formal. America is a lot more blunt: you say how you feel and you don’t hide it. In Iran, you put on a face most of the time. There’s a lot of formality. You can express emotions with close friends and relatives, but there is definitely more openness in America. There is more family drama and gossiping in Iran.

Do you get to go out more or are there more things to do?

When I first got here, I was in 6th grade, so I didn’t get to experience that much in Iran. There are more freedoms here and it is a lot safer to go out, especially as a woman, so I have more choices in what I can do.

How is the location different? 

It is much more humid here and I don’t really like the summer because of that. The Middle East is famous for being hot and sunny and women have to wear a hijab, which also makes it hotter, but it’s not humid — it’s very very dry which makes it more bearable. I would not be able to dress the same way in Pittsburgh because it is so humid in the summer.

Despite what other people may think, it does snow in Iran. I have noticed that every year it snows less and less as the climate gets warmer in Iran, but we do still get snow and school cancellations. We have four seasons, but overall it’s just more dry and with a shorter winter.

What’s the greatest opportunity you’ve had at North Allegheny?

Education and freedom in every aspect of life. Freedom to say what you want and not be hunted down for it. Freedom to wear what you want. Believe what you want. For example, you can have your own religious and political beliefs and not live in fear of going to prison for them. Especially education. In Iran, education is very religion-based. There are many mandatory religious classes. It’s just great to have that opportunity to learn things that are not centered around religion. Here it’s separated: you can have your own beliefs at home, while at school you can learn everything else.

What is your favorite memory from North Allegheny?

The 9th grade Fashion Club show. I love fashion and designing clothes. Getting to do that with my friends and see the clothes I made on a runway was incredible. I also found my one and only Iranian friend there.

This story was originally published on The Uproar on March 26, 2019.

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