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Students Host ‘Crossing Borders’ Immigration Panel
Five students of varying background stand together for a photo with two employees in an MAN building classroom.

As part of a year-long effort to promote cross-cultural education and highlight the experiences of immigrants and refugees, six Brookdale international students, study abroad participants, English as a Second Language (ESL) students, and DACA recipients joined together on March 29 to host a “Crossing Borders” panel discussion on the Lincroft campus.

The program, hosted by Brookdale’s Global Citizenship Project and the International Education Center, touched on a wide range of topics and personal experiences, including the educational benefits of studying abroad and the challenges faced by international students living in the U.S. From overcoming language barriers and social stigma to learning new cultures and adapting to different ways of life, each student offered a unique take on the leap of faith required to live – and study – in a foreign country.

Raza Ali, a business administration major and Brookdale Student Ambassador from Pakistan, said one of his biggest surprises in coming to America was the sense of welcome – and the lack of judgment – he experienced from his classmates.

“As we all know, there is that political view of every country that arrives before you do,” said Ali. “They ask you where you are from, and right away there is this thought process and they kind of try to figure you out. I was scared of that, but here no one does it. They have all been super supportive of the fact that I am from Pakistan. I don’t get any skeptical looks or anything, and I really appreciate it. That’s the thing I love about America. It makes me feel like I am home.”

Education major and fellow panelist Rebekah Blonski echoed similar sentiments when describing her recent study abroad experience in Aix-en-Provence, France.

“I was worried that when they first learned I was American they would think, ‘Oh, she’s probably stuck up and only here for our alcohol and French romance,'” said Blonski. “But I found that if you at least attempt to talk to French people in their language, something as simple as ‘bonjour,’ they are so open and receptive and all they want to do is teach you. France totally exceeded my expectations. My advice is to not go in with any expectations, because that could be the determining factor in your experience.”

Students sit at tables in an MAN classroom and watch a panel discussion in the front of the room.

A capacity crowd of students and employees participate in the “Crossing Borders” panel discussion on March 29.

The discussion also focused on a number of timely issues, including the ongoing uncertainty surrounding DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

DACA, which provides legal protection to eligible undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, was eliminated via presidential order in September but remains in limbo due to a number of legal challenges. For panelists Javier Veliz and Brenda Martell, who have spent most of their lives in the United States and are currently working toward degrees in mechanical engineering, that uncertainty is troubling.

“I was planning to transfer to a university, but now I don’t know anymore,” said Martell, who came to the U.S. with her family at the age of 3. “You don’t know if that’s going to be kind of pointless, if you won’t even have the chance to finish your first year or your first semester.”

Despite the logistical challenges of being a DACA recipient, however, Veliz said his main struggle is one of identity.

“I grew up American,” said Veliz, who has lived in the U.S. since he was 18 months old. “I still have my home country’s traditions but I don’t really see myself as Guatemalan. Or American, really. I see myself as stuck in between. It’s difficult to explain, but it’s as if you were born to one family and then adopted. Do you identify with your biological parents, or do you identify with the people who raised you? That’s probably the best way to put it.”

The panel discussion was followed by an open Q&A session, where the dozens of students and employees in attendance were able to ask questions and describe their own experiences with immigration, travel and cultural identity.

Panelists also included ESL student and Dominican Republic native Sandra Ramirez and communications major Jessica McMahon, who recently studied abroad in Austria. The program was emceed by International Education Center Director Janice Thomas and facilitated by assistant human services Professor Daijuan Gao.

The Global Citizenship Project’s “Immigrants and Refugees” events series will continue on April 2 at 7 p.m. with a lecture titled “Healing Through a Survivor’s Eyes,” centered on the work of Holocaust survivor Leslie Schwartz. Additional events include the upcoming Visiting Writers Series program, held at 7 p.m. on April 4 in the Student Life Center, and the Spring 2018 International Festival, held during college hour on April 12 in Lincroft. For a full calendar of upcoming events, click here.

To learn more about Brookdale’s International Education Center, click here. Learn more about Brookdale’s Global Citizenship Project here

Check out more photos of the “Crossing Borders” panel discussion here