I will never forget walking through the halls of my new school in California during the Iran hostage crisis. Just a week prior I was in Iran playing soccer with my friends and attending the 4th grade, and with no warning we had to leave. After a crazy escape, which you can read more about in my new book Perfect Pain, we ended up in California. Anyone who’s switched schools as a kid knows the challenges that go with that. I had all those challenges on top of the the fact that my name, skin color and accent were different than all of the kids in that California school.
The amount of change that kids face coming from a different county is not easy to describe unless you’ve done it. A New school. A different language A different process. What’s even more difficult to describe is the feeling that accompanies this change. The unknowing of what to expect is a fear that I’m certain every single foreign kid feels coming to America or any other country for that matter. There are already many factors that go into a child’s emotional development during childhood, so imagine overcoming them with the challenges of moving to a new country. Some of the challenges I particularly remember having are as follows.
1. Crisis of identity
People are prone to “judge a book by its cover” even though we were always told not to. I felt like an alien in the way the kids looked at me at my new school. My name was different and it was hard for the kids to pronounce. Because your name is different you have to explain where you are from. In my case, I was told not tell anyone unless they asked. I was from Iran during the hostage crisis, and Iran was America’s top enemy at the precise moment I moved to California. You saw this every single day on news. I was told by my parents to lie about where I was from and tell people I was Persian instead of Iranian. Persia doesn’t exist, but Iranians can be referred to as Persians. So that’s what I did.
2. Money challenges
We came here with nothing on very short notice because of the revolution. We were here with a a political asylum grant and my parents did odd end jobs to put food on the table. My dad couldn’t find a job as engineer or anything that nearly resembles the job and financial situation we had back home. This sudden change was very difficult. When you go backwards financially it’s far more difficult than then having nothing and moving incrementally foreword.
The toughest part was my relationship with my parents. My parents, like most, didn’t have super powers. They too were going through their own challenges and their own crises of identity. What people often forget is that the parents who immigrate to a foreign country are dealing with so many other problems that they unintentionally forget to understand and deal with the children’s emotional needs too. They are so overwhelmed by the situation that the needs of their children are an afterthought in many cases. It was definitely the case with me.