My name is Aakriti Neopaney. I am currently a freshman in Baldwin High School. I was born in a refugee camp on March 21st, 2001. However, at the age of 1, my parents took me to Dharan, Nepal to raise me there instead of the camp since Dharan was overall a better place to be. Everything about Dharan- the people, the traditions, the opportunities- has shaped who I am today, how I do things, and how I perceive the world. Dharan is a little town in eastern Nepal, filled with natural beauty, where everyone knows each other. Dharan is known as being a land of friendly people.
Living in Dharan, I was one of the few lucky ones who never had to live in a refugee camp and suffer the pains of an empty stomach, or had to struggle to make a living off of the land with little or no education to back up my choices. Ultimately, a remarkable opportunity for Bhutanese refugees came along. A resettlement program by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) moved Bhutanese refugees to other countries. I never really realized the impact that Dharan had on me until I moved thousands of miles away to the United States at the age of eight.
I can still vividly remember the night of December 3rd, 2009, when our case manager came to pick my family up from the airport and took us to our new apartment. I didn’t experience difficulties talking to people from the U.S., since I knew English perfectly. I started fourth grade in January of 2010, where I was put into an English as a Second Language (ESL) class. Seeing my ability and intelligence, I was moved out of the ESL course and put into regular classes by the beginning of fifth grade. My school life went pretty well, and I got good grades.
I was doing great, but in the back of my mind, I was worried and scared. It was difficult for me to start my life all over. What I once called home was no longer home but a faraway place where my deepest and most sacred memories are. I was upset about moving to the U.S., realizing that all of the millions of people who lived around me were all strangers, and feeling that I could never trust anyone. I grew up in a community knowing every single person, so it felt very strange to not even know my next door neighbor in the U.S. A sense of security was broken completely, not just for me but also for my family. My grandparents especially saw life as difficult and unattainable without a Bhutanese community. This led us to move to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on June 1st, 2011. My parents wanted my grandparents to be happy and feel safe. Pittsburgh was the perfect option since Pittsburgh is known to have an immense number of Nepali people.
Arriving in Pittsburgh, I also felt much more comfortable seeing other people from Nepal just like me. I have had many achievements here in Pittsburgh. I was put into a gifted class in the sixth grade. I finished all of my middle school years at Harrison Middle School, and I am currently a rising freshman at Baldwin High School. I am still in the Gifted Program and take all honors classes. In addition, I am enrolled in the Science Club, Math League, and Spanish Club. I have taken choir for three years, and want to continue that all the way into college.
Being in the U.S. for the past five years, I feel like I have had so many opportunities to follow my dreams, which I would have never gotten a chance to fulfill in Nepal. I have always been interested in how the brain works and what causes people to think and act the way they do. The most arduous organ in any living being, the brain has evolved from a simple curiosity about its structure and function to a mysterious amazement in its complexity. At one time or another, it has served as the seat of every idea and invention in the world. Everything that has ever been said, written, or made by living beings, was, is, or will be a product of the brain. The gravity of this concept, to me, is staggering. I want to be a neuropsychologist in the future. With the amazing opportunities offered in the U.S., I hope one day I can make this dream come true.
Asian people like myself and many others have been subject to discrimination, racism, racial profiling, and stereotypes or group definitions for many years. Hatred against the Nepali people is on record. It has been observed that we have the worst chances of advancing to managerial positions. I don’t want this; I want people to see me as more than just a hopeless foreign girl. I have overcame many problems in life not just in school, but also with my personal life, and I believe that no one can use my skin color, my culture, my family, and my ways to judge who I am and what I will become. Furthermore, I truly believe I can make it big in the U.S. So there you have it. This is who I am; a young girl with huge dreams.