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Shabin Subba had big plans for this summer. After graduating from Concord High School Subba, a refugee from Nepal, planned a camping trip to the White Mountains with other members from the Nepali refugee community to celebrate his accomplishment. Then, he would head to Vermont, to record music with another Nepali friend.
Now, all those plans are up in the air because of the pandemic. But Subba, 18, is still celebrating his accomplishment and the fact that he’ll be the first person in his family to attend college.
“Graduating from high school is an honor for me because I never thought I would graduate from an American high school,” he said.
It’s not the senior spring that students envisioned. But New Hampshire’s immigrant and refugee graduates — many of whom are the first in their family to graduate from high school — are still excited for the future. At Concord High School, about 16% of students are immigrants and refugees.
“It’s a very great achievement,” said Sunita Gurung, 18, a senior at Concord High School and refugee from Nepal. “We’ve come so far, from being refugees, to getting education, to being successful.”
Planning to give back
Subba moved to Concord in 2015, after living for 13 years in a refugee camp in Jhapa, Nepal. Since then, Nepal is never far from his mind.
“Here, we have everything,” Subba said of his family, which includes his mother, brother and two sisters. “What if we were still there?”
Although Nepal has had a low number of coronavirus cases, Subba said that the pandemic is making food shortages worse, particularly for refugees.
“Many people are dying because they are not getting proper food,” he said.
Last year, Subba saved up $500 over the summer to send back to Nepal to help buy food. Closer to home, he supports others in Concord’s refugee community by interpreting letters and phone calls. At Concord High, Subba played soccer, danced, and was involved in the Be The Change Club, which showcases cultural differences.
He says starting at an American high school with minimal English was difficult.
“It was really hard to make friends,” he said. As his English increased, it was easier to connect with his peers. “Through my four years of high school, I have improved a lot.”
Next year, Subba plans to enroll at NHTI, Concord’s Community College. There, he wants to study social work, in order to make a career out of helping others.
“I never thought I would come here,” Subba said, getting teary-eyed. “My mom had to work really hard. So now, I can do something for my mom. I’m working really hard to make her proud.”
Understanding the value of an education
Joseph Gimaranzi, who goes by GJ, has the same desire to make his mother proud. Although he was sad to have senior spring disrupted by the virus, he knows it won’t matter in the long term.
“As long as I’m still going to graduate, and get the diploma, that’s all that matters,” said Gimaranzi, 19. “I’ll make myself and my mama proud.”
Gimaranzi is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He moved to New Hampshire with his mom, brother and two sisters in 2016 and enrolled at Concord High School. Because of his limited English he used to dread when the teacher would call on him, but that improved with time.
“I worked hard,” he said. “Now I can communicate, speak to people.”
The people who supported him while he was learning English, rather than criticizing or making fun of him, made all the difference, Gimaranzi said.
“If you see somebody struggling and you can help them, help them,” he said. “Show them that you’re there for them, so they’re not lonely. Make them feel needed. If someone can’t speak English, please don’t laugh at them. You don’t know how many languages they speak. English is my third language.”
Oleksandr Krotkov, 17, who goes by Sasha, studied English at school in the Ukraine before he immigrated to Concord four years ago. Still, he struggled with the language.
“You can have a great base in terms of English, but you don’t really know how to use it,” he said.
Krotkov plans to attend NHTI next year to study computer science. Enrolling in college is nerve-wracking, he said.
“It’s a little bit scary because I feel like it’s another stage of my life,” he said. “It requires me to be a lot more responsible.”
In the fall, Gimaranzi plans to attend Plymouth State College, where he wants to study criminal justice, in hopes of a career in law enforcement. He’ll be the first in his family to attend college.
“A lot of people in my home country don’t go to school,” Gimaranzi said. “I’m from a village that’s really poor. Paying school fees is really hard. My mom didn’t go to school.”
Some day, he would love to provide scholarships for children in that village to attend school.
Entering the medical field during a pandemic
Last fall Amra Molla, 18, wrote her college admissions essay about the importance of pharmacists during a pandemic. She was thrilled when the essay helped land her an acceptance to the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston, but she never imagined how relevant the piece would be by the time she graduated from Concord High School.
“During a pandemic I have to be there, helping people. That’s [going to be] my job,” said Molla, who immigrated to Concord from Albania when she was 15, after her family won the diversity visa lottery. “I want to be the friendly pharmacist out there.”
Both Molla’s parents attended college, so it was expected that she would too. Still, graduating and studying pharmacy is a big accomplishment.
“I’m a little excited, nervous, and scared all at the same time,” Molla said.
During high school Molla has learned to embrace her status as an immigrant. At home, she speaks Albanian and her family is close with other Albanians in the state. That makes it easy to keep her culture alive, she said. She encourages other immigrants to do the same.
“Being different is unique,” she said. “Don’t be ashamed of it. Embrace it. Embrace your culture.”
Sunita Gurung, the Nepali refugee, said that she’s constantly balancing her two cultures, even though she’s been in the United States since she was 8.
“My one foot is here and my other is there,” she said. “I’m in both places.”
Like Molla, Gurung plans to enter the medical field. She wants to study biology in order to become a doctor one day.
“Even with this pandemic, I still want to go into the medical field,” she said. “I still want to help.”
These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.