By Bishnu Khatiwada
I was born to a world of bamboo huts, food rations, and dirt roads. My family was in Beldangi 2, a refugee camp in Nepal. We were floating there, in a kind of limbo, unsure of who we were and what our future held.
We belonged to no country, kicked out of Bhutan and living in the confines of Nepal’s camps. There were few jobs, poor opportunities for schooling, and even food was sometimes scarce. Our family of six shared a cramped living space, with little privacy from the neighbors. I often cried, fearing that my life would never change.
In 2010, that change I longed for came when I moved to the United States with my family. I soon realized that this “promised land” was also a land of struggle, the biggest one being the language barrier. Growing up in Nepal, I only learned how to speak Nepali, so the English language was brand new to me. I began to use my own style of sign language to communicate with teachers and students.
Even a simple task, like getting permission to use the bathroom, was difficult. I remember asking the teacher if I could go to the “toilet.” When my teacher gave me a pass for the “lavatory,” I did not realize that these were the same things. I was confused, but too embarrassed to ask again. Instead, I waited until I got home from school to use the “lavatory.”
Language was not the only barrier to overcome. I soon learned what it was to be bullied for being different. Despite being from Nepal, I was called a ‘nasty Indian’, as if all Indians belonged to some lesser, gross racial group. When I began to learn English they bullied me because of my accent. They would laugh, humiliating me and making it difficult to practice my choppy English.
I thought that leaving Nepal was the best thing to happen to me, but it did not seem to be turning out that way. I remember telling my father that I wanted to go back home and that I wish we never moved to the United States. I missed the simplicity of life in Nepal and the way that somehow, despite being without a country, we had made a home. The place that had seemed so hopeless suddenly held a new meaning for me.
After some time, I realized that I could not allow my emotions and struggles to dictate my future. Instead I needed to use them to fuel my determination to progress. I spent hours studying and learning my new language. I wanted to show everyone, including myself, that I was capable of anything. My ability in English grew and I developed confidence in my work.
Now, as one of the top students in my high school, I can look back knowing what it means to work hard for something you truly want and believe in. Now that I think about college, the future and a new chapter in my life, I am much more optimistic. I plan to dedicate myself to learning and furthering my education, because not many people from my home country have the opportunity to go to college.
When I think about those bamboo huts, dirt roads and sad schools, I remember how blessed I am to be where I am today. I think of the responsibility that is mine, to make something of myself, and to use the opportunities I have been given to make an impact for others. This is the primary reason that I want to go to college. I know that education is the key to giving my family hope and a future, and if I can contribute to that, I will work as hard as I can to make it happen.
Listen below to Bishnu Khatiwada’s story: