Immigration broadens horizons and borders


Grace Dorsey

A couple months shy of my tenth birthday, my parents made the decision to travel across the world. Before our family made the 13 hour, 7,000 mile journey from Columbia to Dunedin, New Zealand, we went through the usual process. My mother applied for a visa, we all got passports, and we sold our home. It was a big change, going from the house where I spent my entire childhood to an uncomfortable rental. I didn’t quite realize it at the time, but moving out was only the beginning.
I don’t remember much of the plane ride, only the emotional goodbye before we left the terminal and how cold it was when we finally reached our destination. Those first couple of days were incredibly strange. Because of the 19-hour time difference, my family woke up at odd times, often in the middle of night, for the first week. We spent the first couple of months hopping from hotel to hotel, trying to find a place to stay all while navigating this new world.
The culture shock was pretty immediate, and as a nine-year-old I didn’t have a great concept of different ways of life. The accents down to the fashion bewildered me. Another immense difference was the schooling. I was used to a private Catholic school, and the primary (New Zealand term for elementary school) I started out at was the exact opposite.
I was a foreigner.
Back in America, I never had to worry about being athletic, but in New Zealand physical activity was what connected people. In America I relied on my humor to make friends, but in New Zealand my teachers and classmates often found my jokes rude. In addition, I had to deal with the stereotypes of Americans: fat, ignorant, lazy. While I’m sure everyone has experienced being left out, that first year I definitely felt like an outsider, just because I didn’t fully understand the little nuances of New Zealand life. I learned that it’s easy to label people as being “other” and exclude them, but because of my experience I’ll always have an appreciation for those who make the effort to reach out to someone who’s struggling.
For the remaining three years I made a concentrated effort to fit into the culture. I joined a water polo and a basketball team, I imitated the fashion and I even got chickens (Dunedin is pretty rural). Of course, I was always known as “the American,” betrayed by my accent. Looking back at it now, although it was challenging, I treasure my experience. In a world that relies on interaction between cultures, my time in New Zealand exposed me to another way of life and opened my eyes to the world. I’ve even kept some of the habits, like walking everywhere I can and taking the time to appreciate the outdoors.
Today in the United States, the validity of Trump’s efforts to ban certain immigrants is a big debate. Who we should let in and who we should turn away is dividing this country. Although my immigration experience is specific, because of it, I fully believe in the positive impact immigration makes on one’s worldview. Facilitating the exchange of culture is something that benefits both parties.
Even with such tools as the internet, face to face interaction with a variety of people helps open up one’s outlook, especially if that encounter takes place during one’s youth. I know for a fact that living in another country has changed me for the better. I was so contained to my own lifestyle before, and New Zealand showed me just how limited my old perception of the world was. If one is only ever exposed to people with the same ideology, how are they supposed to grow?