What does it mean to be a refugee?
That is a question I used to be embarrassed to answer.
I came to America as a 5-year-old refugee, but now at 20 years old, I identify as a North Carolinian and an Asian American citizen who calls America her home.
Refugee Hope Partners did that for me. They are doing it for hundreds of other refugee families in the Triangle area as well.
I was 5 when my family and I were finally able to leave the refugee camps in Thailand where my parents had been for more than 10 years. We lived at Cedar Point Apartments across Falls of the Neuse Road where both of my parents’ first jobs were at North Ridge Country Club. We were one of the very first Karen (pronounced “KUH-ren”) refugees (from the Karen State in Myanmar, formerly Burma) to settle in these apartments in 2007.
Being a refugee means being forced to grow up at a very young age. I had to take on more responsibilities than I could ever imagine. After three years, my father took my two younger brothers back to Thailand because he did not like life in America.
My mother had to work harder to provide for my two sisters and me even if that meant working out of town most of the time.
American 5-year-olds are taught by their parents how to read and write and receive basic training in life. My parents didn’t know English and didn’t understand American culture, so they struggled with navigating life in just about every way.
I had to learn how to do everything on my own while teaching my mother along the way. I had to translate for my family, fill out paperwork, file taxes, make doctor appointments and work harder to help my family pay the bills while also being a full-time student. I have moved at least 10 times, whether that meant living with my immediate family, my older siblings, close friends or alone.
Refugee Hope Partners has changed my life. As a young woman in a country full of dreams and ambitions, I was stuck because I didn’t know where to start looking for my career path.
The Bridge Program, a branch of Refugee Hope Partners, filled that void. Anna Puryear, my mentor and friend, has helped many like me get on the right career path.
I graduated from Sanderson High School in 2020 right when the pandemic got worse. I went to Wake Tech Community College for two years to save money and become eligible to transfer to NC State University.
Studying and working hard at Wake Tech blessed me to be accepted as one of the Dr. Jim and Ann Goodnight Scholars. I’m in my junior year of college now at NCSU studying animal science with a veterinary bioscience concentration. This summer I’ll have the opportunity to study abroad and go back to my home country, Thailand, and work with Asian elephants in Chiang Mai. I will also have the opportunity to travel to Koh Tao (Turtle Island) to work as a conservationist while scuba diving alongside marine animals.
Refugee Hope Partners has made my dreams come true. The people around me whom I now call family have welcomed me with love and open arms. They have taught me how to thrive in this new world — how to live my life to the fullest and how to give back to my community. They have shown my family so much grace and kindness.
I have seen with my own eyes people who may not have the same supportive community struggle to adapt to American life. They have not had the advantage of people such as Refugee Hope Partners and Pat and Don Rayle to come around them and help them not only survive but thrive. The Rayles are my American grandparents who have taken us on family vacations, spent holidays with them and truly become a big part of their family.
Refugee families are forced, many times, to spend many hours working hard to support their families, which means less time to become fully acclimated to American life.
Refugee Hope Partners strive to engage, equip and encourage refugee families as their motto states, “So That All May Thrive.”
I am living proof of this mission.
Eh Taw Boe (pronounced “EH-ta-bo”) is a junior Goodnight Scholar at NC State University majoring in animal science.