flight for life: an elementary school girl
who dreamt to study abroad


by haruka noishiki



Photographed by Kristine Romano

You walk up to your mailbox. You open it, and you see that letter. That letter you’ve been waiting for. You’re almost scared to touch it, in anticipation and in fear of the message it might carry. The envelope is just the size that it could be good news or bad news. You fight your hopes, pushing it down, trying to make the disappointment as small as possible but you know when you see it, if it’s bad, how your heart will drop, and the world will stand still for just a second.

"That letter may explicitly say yes, we admit you to school, or no, you didn’t get this job, but for me that means yes, you can come to this country, or no, you will be deported in 60 days."

No, this piece isn’t about college admissions.  It’s about being in a precarious position in society.

That letter may explicitly say yes, we admit you to school, or no, you didn’t get this job, but for me that means yes, you can come to this country, or no, you will be deported in 60 days. I am approaching this of course from the international student perspective. Yes, I am a “resident alien;” no, I don’t have a green card (I just pay more taxes, I think?); no, I don’t have citizenship; yes, my English is good, so is yours. Yes, I come from Japan; yes, I know how to cook rice; no, I don’t like submitting to men; yes, I wanted to be Prime Minister once. I am an international student in the U.S. because I wanted to work at an international institution (such as the UN, OECD, or World Bank) in fifth grade, and to do so, I wanted to study at a university in the U.S. so I could network and job hunt effectively. To do so, I decided that it would be best to study abroad for high school to “make all my mistakes,” as I said then, and learn U.S. East Coast culture and begin to build my career forward. My parents were against my studying abroad, because I was a successful student in Japan and had good prospects back home, because I was a girl, because it was a significant financial burden even with scholarship. They allowed me to take this leap of faith when I made the scores I needed, showed a sliver of maturity, and begged another dozen times.

"This is just one of many international students’ stories. The recent ICE announcement to severely restrict international students’ statuses comes as a surprise to no one. Though rescinded, international students continue to live with uncertainty of what might come next."

This is just one of many international students’ stories. The recent ICE announcement to severely restrict international students’ statuses comes as a surprise to no one. Though rescinded, international students continue to live with uncertainty of what might come next. When a kind friend approached me with a worried tone that this would be bad news, I realized that the ICE announcement should be bad news. It is. But given what’s been going on, I don’t imagine many of the international students were caught off guard. I call on you to talk to your representatives if you’re dissatisfied by the way in which someone’s future can be made infinitely more confusing and impossible to figure out, just because they were born on different soil. And I call on you to think beyond your international peers, and to think of those who cannot call out and ask for help; the undocumented, the other folks that need a place to live and thrive who are marginalized even within this fight for justice.

Of course, the international experience – just as being a person of color, being a woman, and being of lower-middle socioeconomic status – isn’t a single template, copy-paste, situation. There are international students who can easily pass as American. There are international students with strong accents. There are international students who are wealthy enough to buy their way into college (literally or figuratively), and those who are on full aid. There are international women, international trans folks, international folks with disabilities. There are international students from developed countries with high expectations from family, and those from developing countries with limited infrastructure or career prospects back home. And so many other layers of identity. Just as every other dimension of identity, when these identities intersect, a group of people who may be given the exact same label during new student orientation actually carry an array of colors (I was going to use a rainbow metaphor but that felt like too much).

"Of course, the international experience – just as being a person of color, being a woman, and being of lower-middle socioeconomic status – isn’t a single template, copy-paste, situation."

I am glad I came to study abroad in the U.S. because I can stand on my two feet stronger. I know how to get myself in and out of tough situations, I know how to be scared and manage situations, to lead people who don’t want to be led, and to advocate for women and others who deserve more airtime and support. I didn’t come to the U.S. to pursue the American Dream; I came with a hope for the world too large for my Japanese girl’s shoulders. I fear that there might not be many stupid, hopeful elementary school girls who will go anywhere to fulfill their calling, if we discourage flying for our lives abroad.