English Feature #7-34119 Broadcast September 25, 2000
Teenagers immigrating to the United States usually quickly enter the crucible of high school life, with its academic and social pressures. Today on New American Voices an immigrant from Tadjikistan by way of Ukraine shares his experiences.
Tall, blond and blue-eyed Aleksey Nazarov was born twenty years ago in Dushanbe, Tadjikistan in Central Asia. When he was ten his parents moved the family to Ukraine, where they had relatives. Then, four years ago, the Nazarov family immigrated to the United States. Aleksey was sixteen years old at the time. His father, an engineer, went to work as a handyman, and his mother, a chemist, found work as an occasional housekeeper. Aleksey was enrolled in a local high school, although his knowledge of English was limited, to say the least.
"I gotta tell you it was almost as if I was deaf and mute. The same impression I guess. Because I absolutely could not say anything, and I didn't understand anything. Luckily there was an exchange student from Kirgizstan, so he helped me a lot with translation, he just walked me around the first day, and then we kept in touch, so he was my link."
Aleksey met with a mixed reaction on the part of the other students in the school.
"A few people were extremely friendly, a lot of people were helping me with the schoolwork and with just everyday life, basically. And some people were just perhaps somewhat ignorant of different cultures. They didn't understand that perhaps something I did wasn't because I was quote-unquote weird, but because it's something we do in Ukraine."
However, about 40 percent of the student body of this high school in suburban Maryland, not far from Washington, D.C., are immigrants like Aleksey.
"See, I was not the only person who didn't speak any English, so we would gang up, this little group of us who didn't speak any English, and we would use signs to communicate, and a lot of facial expressions."
Within a year, thanks to intensive English as a Second Language classes, Aleksey knew enough English to enroll in regular classes his junior year, and to finish high school a year later near the top of his class. Four years after arriving, Aleksey Nazarov has adjusted to American life.
"I like the fast-paced way of life. I love this. I so much love the challenge, and life brings me a new challenge every day. For me to become more efficient, better, smarter, to know more. And I totally, totally love that. And then, I don't know - my love of technology, I mean I can just work over the summer and just get myself a great computer and a nice palm pilot, or whatever I want to get."
Aleksey Nazarov is now enrolled in Georgetown University in Washington, studying business. He hopes that eventually he will able to integrate his cultural background into his life and career in America.
"I just want to study as much as possible, I'm thinking of getting a PhD in some business field, I want to travel a little bit and work for some international company. And more than anything I want to put my cultural knowledge of Tadjikistan and Ukraine to work, because it's just not something you can learn, you have to live through it."
Aleksey Nazarov and his family came to the United States as winners of the so-called diversity visa lottery, which annually allows about 55 thousand randomly selected applicants from various countries to enter the United States as permanent residents. Next week in this program a visa specialist will explain the visa lottery process and requirements.