My Name: Story of High School Refugees

My name is Amen Fayah and I went to school in Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

What I enjoy about the education system here is you need to work hard to become successful by obtaining a diploma. My favorite subject is art; I like to work with my hands.  I am proud of the mask that I made — it was blue with some black markings.  I also made a basket that was black, white, and blue. In Congo, we were not offered art classes.

My least favorite class is math because I find it difficult to understand. However, I like numbers, so naturally I wanted math to be my favorite subject.

The biggest difference between Kinshasa and Buffalo is the cold weather.  During breaks from school in Buffalo, you cannot play soccer outside like I could in Kinshasa.  Another difference is that in Kinshasa some students take classes in the morning from 8 a.m. until 12 p.m. or 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.  I like going to school in Buffalo because we have more vacations than we did in my native country.


My name is Amina Ali and I was born in Sudan. I was nine years old during the Second Sudanese Civil War. Seeking refuge, my family and I fled our country to a refugee camp in Kenya, where my siblings and I received education.

On December 2nd, 2013, we moved to the United States –I was 17 years old.  I started going to school in January 2014, and I’ve realized a significant difference between the education system in the United States and Kenya. In Kenya we have to take only five subjects; Math, English, Science, Social Studies, and Kiswahili, plus a religious class that teaches Islam and Christianity.

We had to take these classes for eight years, and are required to pass all of them in order to go to high school. In Kenya, you would not graduate based on your age, but based on how well you understood the material.  The hours for attending school in Kenya are different from the hours here in the states. In Kenya we went to school from 7:15 a.m. to 1:45 p.m., instead of the usual Buffalo 8:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. school day.

Another big difference is the accommodation. Here, the students are given food, and provided with supplies such as pens, binders, and computers.  In Kenya, you get a 45 minute break and must bring food from home.  One desk was assigned to about five or six students, and we all shared one bench.

One of the biggest differences is how the teachers treat the student; if you miss an assignment or show up late, your teacher beats you. Here, that is illegal and the punishment is a simple detention or a warning. .Another major difference is testing; at the camps we took exams in all of the subjects. I wasn’t used to being tested on only a few subjects like we are here. I like school in the United States because the teaching is different.  The teachers in Kenya sometimes don’t come to class.  In the United States, every day the teacher will be there unless they are sick. I also like that I don’t have to take a lot of exams every year. One thing I’ve realized is the high schools here remind me of like the primary schools in Kenya.

My name is Robin Alam and I am from Bangladesh. Coming to America was always a dream for me; especially because I have relatives here.  For Bangladeshi people, it is not possible to come to America if you don’t have family in the country. After waiting 13 years, the dream of mine finally came true. I arrived to this country on February 14, 2014 when I was in the 10th grade. I came here to receive a better education.

I started my school year on April 4, 2014 at Star Academy in Buffalo, NY.  I was admitted to the 9th grade. The first day of school was quite unpleasant and boring.  The unknown faces and foreign language was a different environment. When I came here, I only understood the basics of the language; I had a hard time understanding what the teacher was saying or asking me.  I also answered their questions incorrectly, which was embarrassing and made me feel awkward.

When I began to better understand the English-language, the subjects became easier. I got to the 10th grade last year in September 2014, and I got some major Regents material to study.  My main goal was to pass the Regents.  I passed thanks to the help of my teachers and my hard work.  To be honest, I didn’t even stay after school that much, but I did my homework every day.

My favorite subjects are history and science. Naturally, my favorite period was Global History with Mrs. Schneiderman and Ms. Short.  When they teach history, I vicariously experience the situation, like imagery. This year is my senior year, and I am having a lot of fun with my friends and teachers.

I really enjoy attending school because I love to learn and to see my teachers and friends.  We are students, we are full of curiosity, and we fulfill that by learning from our teachers and elders. By getting an education, I have learned a lot about science, history, and math. My education will help me have a better career in the future. My aim is to get a high school diploma and to continue my studies. My plan is to go to Erie Community College for two years and continue my education at SUNY Buffalo.  I plan to major in engineering.


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