No Longer Confined

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I was born in Sanischare Refugee Camp in 1998. My parent’s families arrived in Nepal in 1992, though my dad left in 1990 and arrived 1993. My parents actually met and fell in love in Nepal.

I arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina in April of 2009 at the age of ten. My transition into the life in the United States was extremely difficult — I remember it like it was yesterday. I was immersed into standard classes instead of English as Second Language (ESL) classes. Along with the language barrier and the culture shock, I was bullied because I did not fit the “mold” the other students were expecting. Everything I did (or, did not do) seemed to be a problem. For instance, the way I dressed, the way I talked, and even the way I stayed silent at times seemed to attract negative attention. This harassment took quite a toll on me. I was ashamed of my culture, my family, our lack of English proficiency, and how we were not “American” enough.

There are times when I feel like maybe I would have been better off in Nepal. But that thought merely lasts for a split second, rightfully being trumped by the plethora of positive things that have happened to me as a result of resettling to the United States. Although I moved to the US at a very tender age, I was old enough to remember the dire conditions in which we lived in the refugee camp. My status as a refugee and a female confined me to a box that included going either going to two years of college and teaching English or living a burdened life of a “traditional” Nepali housewife who is subservient, always, to everyone. Luckily that is not the case, thanks to my parents who moved their entire lives across the planet so that my brother and I could have a life they were never fortunate enough to have. It has been nine years since arriving here, and although my journey has not been without challenges, I am proud of how far I have come.

After winning a scholarship in middle school that would cover my tuition for all four years of college, I started to think seriously about college. I wanted a college that would challenge me and help me grow into the best person that I could be, equipped with professional skills that would help me as I pursued my career. Naturally, UNC Chapel Hill became my top choice. Their rigorous curriculum along with their diversity and inclusiveness made me fall in love with the college. The day I got accepted and realized that I could graduate without having my parents pay a penny was one of the best days of my life.

I knew I wanted to pursue a health career since I was a little girl watching my mom cure the sick in Nepal (my mother served as an informal pharmacist in the camps) but it was merely a dream until we came to the US and I knew that dream could be a reality. Additionally, I wanted to help underprivileged people around the world, inspired by the work of the UNHCR, CARITAS, other NGOs, and their spirit of volunteerism that completely transformed my life along with the lives of thousands of other refugees. Since medical schools do not require their prospective students to major in STEM, I chose to major in Global Studies with concentration in global health, which allows my two passions for health and philanthropy to intersect.

I am currently a sophomore pre-medical student majoring in Global Studies and minoring in Chemistry and Hindi-Urdu and although college is more challenging than I anticipated, I could not be more proud of my decision to attend UNC. With my course of study, my long term goal is to become a successful family physician, work with organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, and eventually open a local clinic to serve our Bhutanese community. In the meantime, I am working to start a Nepalese student organization at UNC and create a newsletter for the Bhutanese Community Association of Charlotte (BCAC). I hope to continue giving back to my community that still shelters me, whether it is through performing, hosting, advocating, or just volunteering at different events, and see it grow to its fullest potential.

Editor’s Note: Have a diaspora story you’d like to see us tell? Know of someone in the community who is doing formidable work? We’d love to hear about them. We are in particular seeking stories about women and elders and how they’re integrating into their new communities.

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Ms. Susanna Pradhan is a senior Anthropology and Global Studies major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). Although she came to the US at a young age, she strongly identifies with her Lhotshampa (Bhutanese-Nepali) community. From an early age, Ms. Pradhan began volunteering with the Bhutanese Community Association of Charlotte, an organization her father co-founded in 2009. Over the years, she has helped organize and host community events, taught citizenship and Nepali classes, and performed at cultural events. A passionate advocate for refugees, she has also served as a speaker and panelist at various events, including World Refugee Day programs in Charlotte, NC.

Ms. Pradhan values the importance of education and advocacy. She has dedicated an ample amount of time serving diverse students, including those from immigrant and low-income backgrounds. Ms. Pradhan has worked as an English teacher in Shanghai, a summer camp counselor at CMS schools, and a volunteer tutor and translator at afterschool programs. In 2017, she also traveled to Capitol Hill and the offices of NC Senators to advocate on behalf of 1.6 million kids in the US who relied on 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

Following in the footsteps of her father, she recently helped establish the Bhutanese Youth Cooperative (BYC), where she sees her passion for community and education intersect. BYC is a novel grassroots effort that aims to foster educational and professional development via virtual career forums and mentorship programs. Ms. Pradhan also founded a Nepalese Students Association at UNC. While promoting Nepali culture and values, her school organization has been vital in expanding and strengthening the network of Nepali scholars in the Research Triangle.

Ms. Pradhan’s curiosity about her refugee identity has led her to pursue research that encompasses the past, present, and future of the Lhotshampa diaspora. She is a recipient of the Southern Oral History Program’s Plambeck Award. This grant has allowed her to record experiences of migration and displacement of Bhutanese elders residing in North Carolina by way of oral history interviews. Ms. Pradhan feels that there is a severe absence of historical and sociocultural accounts in academia. Thus, her ultimate goal is to consolidate primary and secondary resources and produce a comprehensive study of the diaspora to be used by academics as well as future generations.